Top 10 under-20s graduates for 2016
These 10 youngsters have outgrown the under-20s National Youth Competition and will be soon coming to an NRL team near you.
Drew Hutchinson (Dragons)
Given he made his NRL debut in Round 18 just days after captaining the New South Wales under-20s Drew Hutchison has some idea of what to expect in open company from 2016 onwards. With a big build for a half reminiscent of former Dragons great Trent Barrett, Hutchison played just five games in the Holden Cup in 2015, the St George Illawarra coaching staff fast-tracking his development by playing him in the NSW Cup with the Illawarra Cutters for most of the season. A Junior Kangaroos representative the past two years, Hutchison will need only an opportunity to make a regular first grade spot his own. Contracted to the Dragons for the next two seasons.
Brenko Lee (Raiders)
Having scored 34 tries in 44 NYC games across three seasons big Brenko Lee finally out-grew the under-20s on October 10 and will be expected to take the step up into the NRL team on a regular basis. He has already made six NRL starts over the past two seasons, scoring four tries in the process, but despite his impressive junior resume at state and national level Lee has been unable to yet prove he is ready to become a consistent first-grader. Too big and skilful for kids his own age, the challenge now for Lee is to now take the power that yielded 59 tackle busts in 18 games into games against men just as big as him.
Liam Knight (Sea Eagles)
Due to turn 21 on January 15, Knight will take inspiration from Jake Trbojevic's rookie season as the hard-running front-rower looks to make his mark on the NRL sooner rather than later. Inspirational in Manly's charge to the Holden Cup Grand Final this year, Knight plays in a similar vein to former Newcastle prop Paul Harrogan and along with Trbojevic represents the future of the Sea Eagles' engine room. A Central Coast junior, Knight averaged 169 metres and 33 tackles in 23 games for Manly this season and will be one to watch as the season progresses.
Irae Simone (Rabbitohs)
The name Irae Simone first popped up unexpectedly when Michael Maguire named the New Zealand rugby recruit in his team for the Auckland Nines in 2014, his first outing in a Rabbitohs jersey. Standing 190 centimetres and weighing in a tick over 100 kilograms, Simone has scored 19 tries in 36 games the past two seasons and can fit in anywhere in the outside backs. A New Zealand under-18s rugby representative before moving to Redfern, Simone shapes as another exciting option for Maguire's young backline.
Viliame Kikau (Panthers)
Arguably the most devastating ball-runner in the Holden Cup this season, Kikau will join the Panthers in the off-season after playing a major role in the Cowboys' past two finals campaigns. An international representative with Fiji against Papua New Guinea earlier this year, the rampaging front-rower with silky skills scored 21 tries for North Queensland this season, taking his tally to 32 from 42 under-20s games, along with 129 tackle busts, third in the Holden Cup behind Addison Demetriou and Latrell Mitchell this season.
Jai Arrow (Broncos)
Having cleaned up at the Broncos presentation night with Best Forward, Players' Player and NYC Player of the Year last Friday, Arrow will join the NRL squad in the pre-season where the hard-working lock forward will be groomed to one day take over from Corey Parker. His chance may come as early as next year's Origin Series when Brisbane's stable of rep stars are again called upon for their state and his numbers in the under-age competition were very much Parker-esque. He averaged more than 160 metres and 32 tackles in 24 games for the Broncos this season, his 3,907 running metres second only to Addison Demetriou for the competition. He turns 20 on December 7 but will most likely celebrate with a first-grade flogging in the Queensland summer heat. Welcome to first grade son.
Ashley Taylor (Titans)
Due to turn 21 on March 17, Ashley Taylor could celebrate with a starting spot in the halves with his new club, the Titans. The young halfback prodigy was allowed to negotiate with other clubs when it became clear his path to first grade was impeded at the Broncos and the Titans pounced, locking up the 2015 Holden Cup Player of the Year for the next two years. With Kane Elgey and Tyrone Roberts also at the club he won't walk straight into a starting spot but the Junior Kangaroos and Queensland under-20s representative has a bright NRL future ahead of him. He will certainly hope it is more fruitful than his debut with Brisbane in Round 26 where he fractured two fingers after 30 minutes that brought his season to an end.
Addison Demetriou (Sea Eagles)
Perhaps the greatest puzzle facing incoming Manly coach Trent Barrett is what on earth he does with Addison Demetriou. Having started the season in the front row – the position in which he represented the New South Wales under-20s this year – Demetriou was shifted to the centres midway through the season to devastating effect. Nicknamed 'The Steamroller', Demetriou's 4,431 metres were 500 more than the next best in the Holden Cup, his 197 tackle busts were 62 more than Rooster Latrell Mitchell and he scored as many tries (21) as fellow Manly sensation Tom Trbojevic. He's clearly not ready for first grade just yet but if Barrett can get a big pre-season into the Bankstown junior, who knows what he is capable of.
Te Maire Martin (Panthers)
With Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses seemingly set for long careers in the halves at the Wests Tigers the departure of Te Maire Martin to the Panthers is understandable but it could yet be a move Wests regret. Named five-eighth in the Holden Cup Team of the Year for the second year in a row, Martin's 35 try assists and 37 line-break assists were both top of the league in 2015 and he will be groomed at Penrith to slot in for either Jamie Soward or Peter Wallace at a moment's notice. A two-time Junior Kiwi, Martin was described as a "clever five-eighth with wonderful hands and a nippy running game" and signed a three-year deal with Penrith in July this year after former NSW half Brett Kimmorley said he was the best playmaker in either the NYC or NSW Cup.
Jackson Hastings (Roosters)
OK, we're cheating with this one because technically Hastings is eligible for the under-20s again in 2016 but we'll be stunned if the supremely talented young half ever makes another appearance in the Holden Cup. Superb in the Roosters' win over the Bulldogs in Week Two of the finals series, Hastings filled in manfully for the injured Mitchell Pearce at the back-end of the season and with the departure of James Maloney is first in line to be Pearce's halves partner in 2016, not to mention with 158 goals at 73 per cent an option to be the team's goal-kicker. He made his NYC debut in 2013 but after 14 NRL games this season, don't expect any addition to his 39 under-20s games in future.