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Mitch Barnett, Ryan Matterson and Suaia Matagi have been unsung heroes for their clubs early in 2017.

I love surprises and it's fair to say that the opening two weeks of the NRL Telstra Premiership have had plenty.

Who would have thought that for the fourth time in five match-ups that a game between the Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys would go into golden point? Who predicted that the Canberra Raiders would start the season 0-2? Did anyone predict that Jarryd Hayne would be a mug NRL Fantasy pick (if so I wish that they had told me sooner…)?

What's not so surprising is that there have been some stand out performers in the opening weeks of the competition.  

Everyone is talking about Jason Taumololo from the Cowboys, and for good reason. In just two games, the 'other' JT has made 507 metres, which is absolutely epic.

One of my favourite moments of the clash between the Cowboys and the Broncos was at the end of the game after Johnathan Thurston had kicked the field goal to seal the win. While Thurston leapt up into the air with joy, Taumololo doubled over, hands on his knees, exhausted. He was spent. He had nothing left to give. That is exactly the sort of player that I want on my team.

Speaking of a player that I want on my team, is it too early to be calling 'buy of the season'? Apparently not, because that's what people are saying about Luke Keary. A change has really done wonders for this young half and he looks right at home in his new colours of red, white and blue. He was again dominant last week against the Bulldogs and was instrumental in the set-up of two tries – the first to Boyd Cordner and the second to Mitch Aubusson. The Roosters are already benefiting from his enthusiasm and he is beginning to look like the young half that led Souths to a Premiership in 2014.

While these are some of the more obvious stand-out players, this week I want to highlight some unsung heroes from the opening two rounds of the competition and celebrate their contribution to their teams' successes.

Mitch Barnett – Newcastle Knights

At the beginning of the season, I predicted that the Knights would not get the wooden spoon and from what I've seen from the opening two rounds, I'm even more confident.

Congratulations to the whole team on their win against the Gold Coast Titans on the weekend – their first win in almost an entire calendar year.  

The Knights are a team of unsung heroes including Brock Lamb and Sione Mata'utia (I think Nathan Ross has officially reached cult hero status, so I have left him off this list), but one man in particular has stood out for me and that's Mitch Barnett.  

Mitch is only 22 years old, but has already made a demonstrable impact at the club. In 2016, he averaged more offloads and more runs per game than any other player at the Knights. In his opening two games this year, he has picked up where he left off last year.  

Already this season he has made 204 running metres, has already notched up two try assists and made 78 tackles. He is exactly the sort of workhorse player that the Knights need and I'm really enjoying watching him develop as a player. 

Even more exciting for Knights fans is that Mitch penned a new deal this week which will see him in the red and blue until 2020. During negotiations, Mitch made it very clear that he wanted to stay at the Knights and it looks like they were even keener to keep him.


Suaia Matagi – Parramatta Eels

If you're a Parramatta fan, you could be forgiven for being extremely impressed with what you've seen in the opening rounds with dominant wins over both the Manly Sea Eagles and the St George Illawarra Dragons. This is the first time since 1999 the Eels have started the season winning their first two games.

While most people have been focused on the performances of Corey Norman, Clint Gutherson, Bevan French and Semi Radradra (all deservedly so), I would like to single out prop Suaia Matagi who has really brought a sense of toughness to Parramatta's forward pack that the team has lacked in the past. 

With 247 metres made in his first two games and his fancy footwork creating havoc for defenders, Suaia has really impressed me in his opening two games – particularly when you consider what he has gone through off the field. 

Suaia has spent time in prison – serving three years for assault. He was only 17 years old at the time. Rugby league has given this man a second chance and he is taking that opportunity with both hands. Not only is he leading on the field, but off the field Suaia is known for taking the opportunity to visit other at-risk young people so that they can learn from his experiences and hopefully take a different path.


Ryan Matterson – Sydney Roosters

The way the Sydney Roosters have started off this year has created quite the stir. Rugby league fans have been getting very excited over the performances of players like Luke Keary, Dylan Napa, Boyd Cordner and Mitchell Pearce. 

With the focus on these key names, there's a player that has gone under the radar, and for me, he has been crucial to the benchmark set by the Roosters in Rounds 1 and 2.

Ryan Matterson has made over 100 metres off the bench in both games so far this season. Last season Ryan was known as a utlity and played several positions. This year he has started in the back row, and despite having to adapt to his new role in the middle, has really taken the opportunity in his stride. 

Along with names like Connor Watson, Joseph Manu and Latrell Mitchell, Ryan Matterson represents the future of the Sydney Roosters and he is already contracted until the end of 2019. 


Some other players that just missed the 'unsung heroes' cut are South Sydney's Cody Walker, the Cowboy's Scott Bolton, Broncos interchange forward Herman Ese'ese and Dragons lock Jack de Belin. 

So while other rugby league fans are praising some of the bigger stars in the competition, be sure to remember the unsung heroes whose contribution is so important in making sure your team gets the job done on the weekend.


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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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