Top 10 NRL rookies of 2015
They are the NRL's brightest young stars and no doubt the future of the game. While some of the game's best new talents like Manly's Jake Trbojevic and the Roosters' Sio Siua Taukeiaho have missed the cut due to each playing a game in the top grade back in 2013, there is no doubting the following 10 rookies have made massive strides this season.
10. Shaun Lane (Bulldogs)
Having made his debut back in Round 14 against the Gold Coast Titans – following a season-ending injury to Bulldogs forward Tony Williams – 20-year-old back-rower Lane well and truly arrived in the Bulldogs' Back to Belmore game two games later, when he was named Man of the Match for his outstanding efforts on the edge against Melbourne. Standing at almost 200 centimetres, Lane has been a mainstay ever since and has averaged 78.6 metres and 18.2 tackles across his nine NRL games.
9. Kyle Lovett (Wests Tigers)
Busily working away to play 19 games in his rookie season the Tigers back-rower has thrived under the youth policy of coach Jason Taylor. Filling in gaps wherever necessary – whether in the centres, back row or from the bench – Lovett has looked every bit of a first grader despite his club's horror season.
8. Aaron Gray (Rabbitohs)
The production line of outstanding outside backs from Redfern way has continued in 2015. In previous years it's been Dylan Walker and Alex Johnston grabbing the limelight, and this season it is Aaron Gray's turn. Having jumped the out-of-favour Joel Reddy in the pecking order, Gray got his chance in the top grade following Kirisome Auva's suspension and scored seven tries in 12 games.
7. Chris Grevsmuhl (Rabbitohs)
The Rabbitohs forward achieved more than most first-graders dream of before even actually making his NRL debut this season. Before running out for his maiden NRL game in Round 1, Grevsmuhl was an integral member in South Sydney's Charity Shield, Auckland Nines and World Club Challenge victories. On top of that, the 22-year-old played in the Indigenous All Stars' win. It has come as no surprise he's managed to kick on in the myrtle and cardinal.
6. Kane Elgey (Titans)
He was supposed to partner Sea Eagles halfback Daly Cherry-Evans in 2016 at the Titans, but after the Queensland representative's backflip to re-sign with his current club, Elgey's path to the NRL this year has been all the more worth it this season. Still in what was supposed to be a growing period for the 21-year-old, Elgey now holds the hopes of Titans fans already. Racking up seven try assists in 13 games, Elgey's recent troubles with injury could be a blessing in disguise as the Gold Coast look towards brighter seasons ahead.
5. Solomone Kata (Warriors)
Having boomed on to the scene at the Auckland Nines – where he made the Team of the Tournament – Kata has built on his early-season success to play every game for the Warriors this season, becoming quite the crowd favourite across the ditch. He's produced the fifth-most tackle breaks in the competition and has proved he's not a one trick pony by also averaging 114.5 metres per game and scoring 11 tries.
4. Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Panthers)
In a day and age where front-rowers don't truly develop until their mid 20s, Campbell-Gillard has definitely bucked this trend this year. At just 22, Campbell-Gillard was a shock selection for the City Origin team under Brad Fittler after just eight NRL games and has continued to build at the foot of the mountains. The 2013 Junior Kangaroo has played every game this year for the Panthers, averaging 112.3 metres and 22.1 tackles per match, and looks likely to become a mainstay in the Penrith pack.
3. Euan Aitken (Dragons)
Dubbed by teammate and veteran halfback Benji Marshall as "the next big thing" in the pre-season, Aitken lived up to the hype by playing what coach Paul McGregor described as one of the best debuts in the NRL he's ever seen in Round 3. Playing every game since then, Aitken has already proven to be one of the game's best defensive centres with 21.3 tackles per game and opposition defences have found he's a tough man to stop as well.
2. Tuimoala Lolohea (Warriors)
Not expected to have played as many games as he has this season, Lolohea still qualifies as a 2015 rookie after playing just three games last year. Having quickly become the Warriors' Mr Fix-It, Lolohea has filled in at halfback, in the centres, on the wing and at fullback during different times of the year. Amazingly quick, the 20-year-old is currently undergoing a litmus test – with Shaun Johnson out for the season – as he looks to push for a permanent spot at five-eighth in 2016 with Chad Townsend Sharks-bound next year.
1. Jack Bird (Sharks)
The Sharks knew exactly what they were getting themselves into when signing Jack Bird from main rivals the Dragons. A former Junior Kangaroo and under-20s New South Wales representative, the 20-year-old made his Country Origin debut this year only a handful of games after his NRL debut. Adept at playing a number of positions, Bird has been settled at five-eighth this season and has been a major reason behind Cronulla's rise from 2014 wooden spooners to 2015 finals contenders.