9 rookies to set Auckland Nines alight
There's not a single NRL game between them but these players will capture the attention of many fans watching this weekend's Downer NRL Auckland Nines.
Brad Abbey (Bulldogs)
Auckland is familiar turf for the former Warriors sensation who has joined the Bulldogs senior squad in the off-season. A lanky fullback just as proficient as scoring tries as he is laying them on, Abbey will relish the open spaces on offer at Eden Park. Finished the 2015 Holden Cup season with 20 try assists and 10 tries and now has the perfect opportunity to show Canterbury fans what he has to offer.
Kurt Capewell (Sharks)
One of five members of the Ipswich Jets State Championship winning team making their debuts for NRL clubs this weekend, Capewell will revel in the chance to run at a defensive line constantly scrambling to get into position. He thrived under the unorthodox coaching of the Walker brothers at Ipswich and now the rangy centre come second-rower who loves to drift across field and cut back inside off his playmakers gets to take his skills to the masses. It may look awkward at times but more often than not Capewell finds a way through, which will be music to the ears of Cronulla's quick men.
Bevan French (Eels)
Hailing from the same town and family bloodlines that brought us the acrobatic antics of prolific Dragons try-scorer Nathan Blacklock, French has displayed a similar affinity for finding the line in the Holden Cup with the Eels. The 20-year-old's first season in the Holden Cup last year yielded 16 tries from 22 games along with 16 try assists, both team highs for a Parramatta team that finished 13th on the ladder. Pursued by as many as six NRL clubs before joining the Eels he is a fullback with a very bright future ahead of him.
Gideon Gela-Mosby (Cowboys)
It's a fact that lots of tries get scored in the Holden Cup; in 2015 Gideon Gela-Mosby scored 39 of them. His incredible haul was 17 more than the next best and smashed Jake Mullaney's previous record of 29 set back in 2009. Born on Darnley Island in the Torres Strait, Gela-Mosby boasts a Queensland Schoolboys sprint title – 100m in 10.95 seconds – and a contract with the Cowboys through until the end of the 2017 season. Needless to say if he finds some space, it's try time.
Corey Harawira-Naera (Panthers)
A towering presence on the edges, Harawira-Naera was a standout in the Panthers' Holden Cup grand final win over the Sea Eagles and boasts a skill set most second-rowers could only dream of. Auckland-born and bred, 'Corza' lists Sonny Bill Williams as one of his idols and with a freakish ability to get an offload away or bust the defence himself, it's a comparison that may be drawn more than once this weekend. Harawira-Naera's 44 offloads were the sixth-most in the Holden Cup last season to go with 12 tries, 94 tackle busts and 14 line breaks. And he also kicks goals. In a Panthers team overflowing with young talent, keep an eye on this guy.
Brian Kelly (Titans)
Make no mistake, Brian Kelly will play first grade at some point in 2016. The 19-year-old who made history by scoring four tries for New South Wales in an under-20s Origin game last season has spent the pre-season with Gold Coast's NRL squad and has impressed players and coaching staff alike with his natural athleticism and work ethic. Switched between the wing, fullback and centre last year, Kelly's 12 try assists were one more than four-pointers of his own and he averaged 147 metres per game. A youngster who thrives the bigger the stage gets.
Joseph Manu (Roosters)
Skipping across the ground as though he barely touches down, it is little wonder Manu has his own highlights video on YouTube from his exploits in 2015 that earned him a place in the Holden Cup Team of the Year. The winger/centre boasts that rare ability of being able to speed up off a deadly right-foot step and yielded 22 tries and 103 tackle breaks from 25 games for the Roosters in NYC last season. Watch for he and fellow under-20s gun Latrell Mitchell to come up with some special plays to make the older blokes look a bit silly.
Will Pearsall (Knights)
An astute pick-up by the Knights in the off-season, Pearsall was a major factor behind Manly's run all the way to the Holden Cup grand final last season, finishing second only to Te Maire Martin for try assists with 32. Pearsall has played 77 NYC games over the past four seasons and is a tall five-eighth with excellent organisational skills and sound kicking game. With no Mullen or Hodkinson he will share the playmaking duties at the Nines with Jaelen Feeney and Brock Lamb so expect plenty of involvement from Pearsall when the Knights are in action.
Tony Tumusa (Storm)
One of only two Storm players to graduate from the under-20s last season to the NRL squad this year, Tumusa is a natural try-scorer with 26 from 34 games in the Holden Cup. A Junior Kiwis representative in 2015, Tumusa is a power-packed winger somewhat in the mould of Matt Utai, if Matt Utai was a foot taller. He can beat defenders either with his speed or footwork, and if neither of those work he just runs over the top of would-be tacklers. The 20-year-old is willing to attack from any point on the field, which will make him a sensation in the Nines at Eden Park.