Six stars to set 2016 alight: Hodges
Every year in the NRL we see young players burst onto the scene and stars of the game take their performances to new heights. Here are the six players I believe will have a major impact on the Telstra Premiership in 2016.
Kodi Nikorima (Brisbane Broncos)
Kodi probably didn't get enough time to shine last year but he has proven what he can do for New Zealand and also in the World Club Series in England. When he comes onto the field he's got that speed and footwork that is going to test people around the ruck and with the interchange dropping down to eight he'll be even more lethal out of dummy-half. The best thing that Kodi did for us last year was to provide that spark around the ruck - like when he set up that try for 'Milf' against the Cowboys straight after coming onto the field. With his speed, vision and footwork, you just can't stop him.
Jayden Nikorima (Sydney Roosters)
Kodi's little brother showed in the Roosters' World Club Series win in England just what a talented kid he is. He's still only 19 years old but with Mitchell Pearce out for a while he's going to get his chance to shine. I watched the way he trained and got around when he was at the Broncos and when he played in the 20s he was a class above them. The game in England will have given him a good indication of how the team works and what the team needs and when Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner get back he'll have a great forward pack around him and a lot of good options to hit. Jayden is a pretty cool customer and nothing much seems to faze him but he will be nervous for his first few games, he just needs to prepare well and play his natural game. With a bit of time and a bit of patience I think he's going to be the next superstar.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Warriors)
I know he's the reigning Dally M Fullback of the Year but with Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke in his team and the big forward pack the Warriors have got I think he's going to go to another level this year. Roger's footwork is second to none. I remember when we played him last year a couple of times on the kick-chase he made us look silly. He tends to step mostly off his left so I tried to bring him to my right shoulder to take him to the touchline and he went 'bang' off the left foot, stepped two players and went straight past us. I have the Warriors as one of my teams to beat this year so there is plenty of expectation on Roger. What Roger will also do is take the pressure off Shaun Johnson. Whenever you played the Warriors Johnson was always the man you watched but with Roger and Issac there it takes a lot of pressure off him and makes him even more dangerous.
Latrell Mitchell (Sydney Roosters)
I don't know too much about Latrell but I saw footage of him from the Auckland Nines and there's no question he has a similar look to my good mate Greg Inglis. He scored a try along the sideline that looked so much like 'GI'. He had the ball in his left hand and was running exactly the same as 'GI' and although he's a young skinny kid at the moment, so was 'GI' at a similar age. Obviously to be compared to someone like 'GI' is a lot to put on a young kid but with Anthony Minichiello still around the club to help him through, the sky's the limit for this young kid. It's just a matter of him going out and playing with confidence.
Anthony Milford (Brisbane Broncos)
Everyone has seen 'Milf's potential but in truth he hasn't scratched the surface of what he can become. He knows how good he is but there is so much more to his game and what he can do and it's actually quite scary to think how many more levels this kid has in him. For someone so gifted, his self confidence isn't perhaps what you would expect which is why he says things like not yet being ready to play Origin even though he is that good and is ready. A guy who is as good as 'Milf' tends to rely on their natural ability but legends of the game such as Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston figured out that ability only takes you so far. He's got everything that a footy player needs so once he adapts that mentality and believes in himself he's going to become one of the greats to have played the game.
Corey Norman (Parramatta Eels)
This is probably the fittest I've ever seen Corey and what he did at the Nines was exceptional. The whole Parramatta squad looks exceptional and I reckon 'Normy' is in for a big, big year. 'Normy' is a real cool customer and not much fazes him but for the Eels to be successful 'Normy' has to take control. His ability to run and pass adds so much to their team and people don't appreciate how strong he is. He's not lifting big weights in the gym but on the footy field he's a guy who seems to always be able to push his way out of a tackle. Everyone knows how good Kieran Foran is and he is a dominant half in his own right but 'Normy' needs to be the one getting the ball and calling the shots. When guys like that see something you've got to give them the ball because they're the ones with the vision and skill to make something happen.
I'm not surprised to hear my old mate Wayne Bennett wants to keep coaching at the Broncos for a couple more years when his contract expires at the end of this season. I know Wayne well and the thing that keeps him motivated is being around these young men and making a difference in their lives so the more time that those young kids can have Wayne around at the club the better their futures are going to be. When Wayne left the first time we struggled for a few years so when he does step aside they need to replace him with a really strong coach that can handle the pressure of coaching the Broncos. It is a big job and it takes a strong person to hold the reins at this club so they're going to need to appoint a strong personality such as a Craig Bellamy or a Des Hasler type person.
Broncos and Queensland legend Justin Hodges is the co-host of League Nation Live which airs at 7.30pm on Tuesday on NITV.