Top five Holden Cup prospects
What a year it's been for NRL rookies. Thirteen rounds into the 2016 season and 13 debutants have already scored in their first game. South Sydney's Siosifa Talakai became the latest player to join that list with a try from his first touch in the top grade, while Brisbane's Tevita Pangai Jr barged over in what was his second NRL game. Possibly the biggest story of the year was the decision to promote Penrith Panthers boom playmaker Nathan Cleary to the first grade squad against the Storm. The 18-year-old Holden Cup star made 38 tackles and ran for 55 metres in what was the biggest test any young half can face in the Victorian capital.
With so many players breaking through in 2016, here's a look at the top five young stars ready to make the move from the NYC to the NRL.
5. Gideon Gela-Mosby – North Queensland Cowboys
In a competition renowned for its free-flowing footy, it's hard to go past the player who has scored the most tries in the past two seasons and has been earmarked as a future NRL star. Gela-Mosby took the rugby league world by storm in 2015 with an astounding 39 tries from 22 games, including not one, not two, not three, but four hauls of four tries. The Cowboys winger incredibly finished last season as the third leading points scorer despite not kicking a single goal. Only powerhouse prop-come-centre Addison Demetriou ran for more metres than him in 2015, but Gela-Mosby got his revenge with a competition-high 37 line breaks.The Cowboys flyer started the year with just one try from his first three games but exploded into form with seven tries in his next two matches before scoring at least once in his final 11 games to shatter the previous try-scoring record.
Gela-Mosby has missed six games in 2016 through injury but has still managed nine tries in eight matches. Clocked at 10.24 seconds over 100 metres, Gela-Mosby is one of the fastest players in rugby league and showed off his freakish abilities with four tries at this year's Auckland Nines. It's a matter of when not if he brings his freakish exploits to the NRL.
4. Dylan Edwards – Penrith Panthers
The Panthers fullback has picked up from where he left off last year; albeit in a different position. The Penrith young gun was on the wing in 2015 when his side lifted the Holden Cup trophy but has been shifted to fullback in a masterstroke move by coach Cameron Ciraldo. Edwards has been simply outstanding for the Panthers this year scoring 11 tries and coming with just as many assists.
Scoring points hasn't been his only modus operandi with the Penrith No.1 also leading the Holden Cup with 2,060 metres despite only playing 10 matches. He has twice run for 272 metres but that was dwarfed by his season-high of 327 metres against the Cowboys in Round 6. Edwards also leads the league in line breaks (15) with many of those coming from kick returns. Having played at the back for the Junior Kangaroos earlier this year, Edwards will be one of the players to watch in the next few years.
3. Brandon Smith – North Queensland Cowboys
While try-scoring machine Gideon Gela-Mosby and the 'future Billy Slater' Kalyn Ponga have attracted most of the headlines over the past 18 months, Brandon Smith has been the unsung hero of North Queensland's premiership push since the start of 2015. The nuggetty No.9 has been one of his side's most consistent performers since the start of last year but is also one of their most lethal strike weapons. Smith exploded out of the blocks with six tries in his first three games in 2015 before helping guide his side to a heartbreaking preliminary final loss to the Sea Eagles.
The Cowboys rake has been even better this season, scoring nine tries and creating a whopping 13 four-pointers for his teammates. Smith helped his side exact revenge on the Sea Eagles when they met in Round 9, scoring a hat-trick, running for 106 metres and producing four line breaks in a man-of-the-match effort. Unsurprisingly, Smith was named starting hooker for the Junior Kiwis where he once again shone. He ran for a team-high 153 metres, had three line breaks and came up with four offloads in a destructive 47-minute performance. If he can start to play 80 minutes on a regular basis than Smith will be one of the most damaging prospects in the years to come.
2. Nat Butcher – Sydney Roosters
There is no doubting the Roosters have a future star on their hands with Nat Butcher backing up his impressive 2015 campaign with an even more productive start to the 2016 season. Butcher joined the Tricolours last season after the Bondi-based club poached him from bitter rivals South Sydney. He has repaid the faith and currently leads the NYC with 197 carries and sits in fourth position with 1,912 metres halfway through the season and is regarded as a future leader amongst his peers. Butcher also ranks second in terms of tackles with 429 made from 439 attempts.
Still only 18 years of age, the former Australian Schoolboys star has been invited to train with the first grade squad in 2016 and appears destined to get a crack in the NRL in the next 18 months.
1. Jayden Brailey – Cronulla Sharks
The Sharks dummy-half isn't the flashiest player in the competition but he is the craftiest. The Cronulla No.9 has the rare talent of getting his forwards over the advantage line no matter how fast or slow the previous play the ball was. Brailey is second in the Holden Cup with 15 try assists from just 11 games and has also crossed for a couple of tries himself. The bulk of Brailey's assists have resulted in tries to lock forward Jayden McDonogh; the pair's combination seemingly unstoppable close to the line.
Brailey also leads the NYC with 430 tackles and is yet to miss a minute in 2016. The Sharks rake appears set to take over from current No.9 Michael Ennis when the NRL veteran decides to hang up the boots. The former Australian Schoolboys representative also has a younger brother at the club, with Blayke Brailey tipped to be as good, if not better than his elder sibling.