Ennis: The kids to build a club around
With uncertainty surrounding the future salary cap and lengthy contracts being signed by the likes of Jason Taumalolo it's hard to imagine a time when the pressure of recruiting well was as high as it is right now.
Juggling your roster has become one of the most important tasks for the modern NRL coach because with every gamble you take in signing a player there is the opportunity to also go bust.
Before the season had started Kalyn Ponga's big-money move from the Cowboys to the Knights in 2018 created widespread headlines and although he doesn't inherently believe in long-term contracts, Sharks premiership winner Michael Ennis believes Ponga is one young talent you can bank on.
"Let me start by saying that I don't believe long contracts work. Players can get complacent and anything can happen at an NRL club over a long period of time," Ennis writes in the Round 6 issue of Big League.
"But if extended deals did work, the following young stars are not just talented, but mature and dedicated enough to become a long-term player at any club.
"A club can make a good investment in a young player like the Cowboys fullback – as Newcastle have already done. Every now and then our game produces a player with such natural athleticism that they're destined to be the next superstar."
But the veteran of 273 games across five clubs says that Ponga isn't the only youngster currently in the NRL who would be a relative safe bet when it came to a long-term contract.
Tom Trbojevic and Te Maire Martin came into first grade with enormous raps on them while Manly centre Brian Kelly and Sharks hooker Jayden Brailey have each handled themselves well after earning NRL debuts in 2017.
"Brailey has all the qualities a coach would look for when signing a player long-term," said Ennis, who has been helping mentor the Cronulla rake.
"His work ethic is as good as I've ever encountered, he's level-headed and he's also extremely competitive.
"[Sharks coach] Shane Flanagan recently asked me if I thought Brailey could play 80 minutes and I told him he could, just because he wants to.
"Jayden wants to be the best and he'll push himself to the limit to get there.
"With Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai retiring, the next three-quarter pairing is crucial for Manly. Dylan Walker is one guy you would hold onto long term, but Brian Kelly has also shown plenty of promise for a long career.
"With what we've seen from him over recent weeks, it's clear he has the instincts to read a game so well he makes it look effortless.
"I saw some things in Martin's game against Newcastle that proved to me he's a valuable long-term player. At one point he turned and chased Knights winger Nathan Ross when a Panthers win was all but done and dusted. He came from the other side of the field – even though it wasn't expected of him – and showed the will to fight for his team no matter the score.
"That's something we see from Johnathan Thurston every week."
The Round 6 issue of Big League featuring stories on Billy Slater, Manly hooker Apisai Koroisau, the rep rewards headed the way of a host of Panthers and the rugby league records that won't be broken is on sale now at newsagents, supermarkets, at the ground and via www.magsonline.com.au/big-league.