Best NRL debuts of the modern era
Round 12 of the NRL Telstra Premiership saw a couple of debutants play starring roles for their respective sides. Reimis Smith had a day to remember in the nation's capital, scoring a try with his first touch before grabbing a second 20 minutes later for the Bulldogs. Barely 24 hours later, Eels winger Bevan French became the 12th player this season to score a try on debut and then produced the match-winning play two minutes from full-time to earn his team the two competition points.
There have been some unforgettable debut performances over the years. Here are some of the best in the modern era.
Chris Lawrence – Round 21, 2006
What better way to start than with the dream debut of 17-year-old Chris Lawrence when his Tigers stunned an Origin-loaded Broncos side in Brisbane back in 2006.
Speaking to NRL.com, this is how the Tigers vice-captain remembers that day.
"I was only supposed to go up as 18th man, but the day before the game Paul Whatuira did his hammy so I got called in by 'Sheensy' (Tigers coach Tim Sheens). It was probably a blessing in disguise to be honest because I was so young and didn't have to think about it for a full week. I can remember 40,000 people at Suncorp Stadium as I came up against players I'd been watching on TV for years like Petero Civoniceva and Darren Lockyer. I was lucky enough to get a try on debut and a good win which was surreal."
Sonny Bill Williams, Round 1, 2004
Brute force, slick hands, surprising speed and the best offload in the game. It only took one game for Sonny Bill Williams to stamp his authority as the best emerging talent in the competition; the Eels his unfortunate victims. Still only 18-years-of-age at the time, the eventual Bulldogs and Roosters premiership-winner carved up Parramatta in his first grade debut, scoring a try and setting up another in a dominant display at right centre. He would only play one more match in that position in 2004 – the very next round – before finishing off the season as a bench player as the blue and whites went on to win the grand final.
Billy Slater – Round 1, 2003
The Melbourne Storm superstar had a debut to remember with the former Gai Waterhouse apprentice scoring a try in his side's record comeback against the Sharks. The 19-year-old was named at centre but played on the wing and would have loved to have been anywhere but Shark Park when the hosts raced out to a 22-0 lead in the first half. But in what doubled as Craig Bellamy's first game in charge as well, the Storm mounted a stirring comeback to somehow steal the two competition points. Steve Bell scored a hat-trick, Matt Geyer nabbed a double, but it was Slater's scintillating 60-metre dash out of dummy-half that grabbed the headlines as Melbourne ran out 36-32 winners.
Chris Sandow – Round 13, 2008
An injury to star recruit Craig Wing thrust Sandow into the South Sydney side for their daunting trip across the Tasman to take on the Warriors. Chasing their first win in Auckland since 1999, the Rabbitohs found themselves in an absorbing try-for-try encounter, and with the game on the line, turned to their pint-sized yet ultra-confident halfback to seal the deal. With the poise of a seasoned campaigner, Sandow nailed a drop kick in miserable conditions to give his side a shock 35-28 win.
Dean Whare – Round 12, 2010
In a team that has featured try-scoring machines such as Brett Stewart and Steve Menzies, it's crazy to think that no Sea Eagle had ever scored a hat-trick on debut. That was until Dean Whare entered the frame. The 20-year-old Rotorua native was a late inclusion in his side's trip to Townsville but the future Kiwis international did all his damage early. Whare wasted little time getting acquainted to the Dairy Farmers Stadium turf scoring three tries in the first half as his side ran out surprising 24-20 victors. He has played a further 89 games since but is yet to touch down for another treble.
Luke Brooks – Round 23, 2013
Making your debut in the halves is probably the most daunting proposition for any 19-year-old in rugby league, but not for Luke Brooks. Not even the added theatre of playing at the SCG against the Dragons could throw him off his game as he produced a man-of-the-match performance in a Sunday afternoon masterclass to announce his arrival in the NRL. Brooks forced several repeat sets with his left boot before setting up fellow youngster Curtis Sironen close to the line with a no-look pass. Things got better 13 minutes into the second stanza when his deft kicking game produced a try for Tim Simona, before the wunderkind did it all himself in the 62nd minute with a show-and-go to finish off a brilliant team try.
Dylan Farrell – Round 22, 2010
For pure drama, nothing beats this debut. Dylan Farrell was drafted into the South Sydney squad to replace Beau Champion, and the 2010 NYC Team of the Year member made the most of his shock call-up. Tries in the 14th and 53rd minutes would have sufficed, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Locked at 30-all deep into the second period of golden point, Rabbitohs fullback Rhys Wesser broke through some gassed defenders, launched an audacious ball over the top to Shaune Corrigan before the bench player offloaded infield for the rookie centre to crash over to cap one of the most incredible nights of his life as the full-time siren blared in the background.
Jordan Atkins – Round 1, 2008
While there have been some classic debuts over the years, none can top what Jordan Atkins produced as a 25-year-old mature age rookie. Making his first start for the Gold Coast Titans against the Cowboys on the first Friday night of the 2008 season, Atkins did what only two other men – Johnno Stuntz in 1908 and Tony Nash in 1942 – had done before him by scoring four tries in his top grade debut. The right winger got things going in the 20th minute with a simple try before taking things to the extreme five minutes later with a freakish leap and even better put down to somehow ground a Scott Prince kick. Atkins then completed his hat-trick in the 50th minute after some brilliant play by Brett Delaney before touching down for his fourth five minutes form full-time. Atkins only scored seven more tries in the NRL after that, making his efforts on that fateful Friday night even more incredible.