NRL.com's NYC Team of the Decade
For the past decade, rugby league fans have been treated to a double dose of footy with the stars of tomorrow putting on a show before the NRL guys run out for the main event.
The under-20s competition has been fast, freakish and mind-bogglingly unpredictable, and while defence has often taken a back seat the entertainment it has given fans and the pathways it's provided players has been second to none.
With the competition set to wrap up at the end of the year, we've decided to put together a team of the crème de la crème, with the sole focus on players' NYC achievements rather than what they've done in the NRL.
1. Tom Trbojevic (Sea Eagles)
It's impossible to leave out the guy who claimed third spot in our top 50 moments in NYC history countdown earlier in the year. If you thought 'Tommy Turbo's' NRL exploits were impressive then just wait until you hear what he achieved in the under-20s. In 2015, Trbojevic averaged 239.4 metres, 1.5 tries and 2.4 line breaks per game, highlighted by the greatest individual performance in the competition's history with an incredible 485 metres (an NYC record), four tries, four line breaks, six tackles busts and three offloads in his side's win over the Warriors. He only played 14 matches that season but many people feel he was robbed of the Player of the Year award.
2. Gideon Gela-Mosby (Cowboys)
If the Cowboys paid Gela-Mosby by the try then they would have gone broke in 2015. The ridiculously fast winger crossed 39 times from 25 appearances and bagged four hauls of four tries; one of those in the finals. To put that in perspective, the second-most prolific scorer in NYC history is Jake Mullaney who scored 29 tries in 2009. The speedster was an automatic selection in the 2015 and 2016 teams of the year and has shown at both the Nines and the NRL that he has what it takes to dominate at all levels.
3. Konrad Hurrell (Warriors)
You can often find yourself stuck on certain positions for hours on end when trying to pick a team like this, but Konrad Hurrell is the exception. The tank was the first player picked in this squad and it's easy to see why. Having never played the game before, Hurrell took to rugby league like a duck to water in 2011, setting records that have never been broken. That he scored 22 tries from 21 appearances was impressive, but it was the nature in which he played that garnered the most attention. What he lacked in height Hurrell more than made up for in size as he bullied his way past would-be defenders for fun. The bulldozer notched 268 tackle breaks that season (second most in NYC history) which included two games in which he busted 21 tackles. He also ran for 4140 metres (sixth-most in a single season) and was named in the Team of the Year after helping the Warriors to their second premiership in a row.
4. Siuatonga Likiliki (Warriors)
Before there was Hurrell, there was Siuatonga Likiliki. The powerhouse centre was a colossus in the NYC, scoring 29 tries from 50 appearances and earning back-to-back Team of the Year honours, albeit the first was on the wing. Likiliki grabbed a try in his side's 2010 grand final win but surprisingly never really kicked on in the NRL, with the Tongan representative managing just three games for the Warriors and Knights.
5. Wayne Ulugia (Cowboys)
The wing is arguably the hardest position to fill in this team with guys like Dane Gagai and Drury Low desperately unlucky to miss out. However, Ulugia fully deserves his spot given he finished as the most-capped player in NYC history (88 games) and was the fourth-most prolific scorer with 50 tries. While not the biggest guy running around, Ulugia had a knack of finding himself in the right place at the right time and had the uncanny ability to get over the line when others might have struggled.
6. Ben Barba (Bulldogs)
I can still remember going to games in 2008 and thinking to myself 'this guy is going to be a freak'. With the Toyota Cup still in its infancy, Ben Barba emerged as the competition's first genuine superstar; perhaps the first player you'd pay money to go see or pay attention to when watching the game on the couch. The Bulldogs only just snuck into the top eight that year and they can thank their star playmaker for getting them that far. Barba scored 28 tries, kicked 70 goals and slotted a pair of field goals to finish the year with 254 points from just 20 appearances. His ability to create something out of nothing made him the most must-see player at the time; something that carried over when he made the move to first grade later that year.
7. Shaun Johnson (Warriors)
The fact Shaun Johnson didn't make the 2009 NYC Team of the Year remains one of the biggest robberies since they started charging 20 cents for sauce at school sausage sizzles. Nothing against Robert Lui and Beau Henry, who were the starting halves – or Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans, who made the bench – but surely 'SJ' had to be in the team. His raw stats were out of this world – 48 try assists (most in a single season), 17 tries and 84 goals – and he even upped his game the following year to help the Warriors to their first title. His speed, footwork and daring in attack were perfectly suited to the NYC and it's a credit to his work on and off the field that his form has continued in first grade where defensive structures are supposed to nullify players like him.
8. Viliame Kikau (Cowboys)
There's nothing really surprising about the 2015 try-scorers leaderboard; that is until you get to Viliame Kikau. Surrounded by wingers, fullbacks and centres, the Cowboys front-rower sticks out like a sore thumb with 21 four-pointers from 21 appearances to sit one try off the podium. The behemoth kicked off the year with a hat-trick in Round 1 and bagged another treble midway through 2015, with Kikau showing an acute awareness of how to exploit his size close to the line. He finished the year with 129 tackle busts (third in the NYC) and was one of the first men picked when the Team of the Year was announced.
9. Michael Lichaa (Sharks)
There's a reason the Bulldogs were so keen to bring Michael Lichaa to the club in 2015 and it had nothing to do with a sensational hairline. With 15 tries from 52 appearances, the former Junior Kangaroo and Junior Blues hooker is one of the most dynamic rakes to have featured in the NYC. While he's made his mark as a workhorse in the ruck for the Bulldogs, Lichaa's greatest asset has always been his running game, something that saw him selected in the 2012 and 2013 teams of the year in the No.9 jersey. His ability to spot tired markers or read defensive lapses was second to none and those who followed him closely know how good he can be if given a proper chance in the NRL.
10. Jake Trbojevic (Sea Eagles)
It hardly seems fair to pick a player whose team managed just 12 wins while he was there, but that's testament to Jake Trbojevic and what he did for the Sea Eagles in 2012 and 2013. If he hadn't been there then things could have been much worse for Manly, but instead they turned to their undersized prop to get them out of trouble time and time again. Playing against guys who towered over him, Trbojevic never gave an inch and was always one of the best players on the field, finishing his NYC career with 15 tries from 38 appearances and plenty of admirers.
11. Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys)
He's made a name for himself as a one-man wrecking ball through the middle, but there was a time when Jason Taumalolo was allowed to roam free on the edges where he terrorised halves, centres and anyone who dared get in his way. Taumalolo played 55 matches for the Cowboys and helped lead them to within one point of upsetting the Warriors in the 2011 grand final, while he also represented the Junior Kiwis twice, captaining them in 2011. It's fair to say 2011 was his year given he made the Team of the Year, was named the RLPA's player of the year and ran for 4192 metres (the fourth-most in competition history).
12. Sam Lousi (Warriors)
There have been more consistent players than Sam Lousi over the years but none have been as damaging as the towering Warrior. Head and shoulders taller than everyone else on the field, Lousi was able to offload at will to his strike weapons on the outside while his extreme reach meant he was able to get to the line when mere mortals would have been stopped well short.
13. Nat Butcher (Roosters)
Say hello to the captain of the Team of the Decade. We've seen some impressive numbers in the under-20s but nothing compares to what Nat Butcher did for the Roosters in 2016. The tireless lock finished the year with 1049 tackles and 4526 running metres – both competition records – and added 44 offloads and 97 tackle busts for good measure. Butcher averaged 209 metres in his four finals matches and made roughly 49 tackles per game as well as he led the Roosters to a remarkable comeback in the grand final that saw him collect the Jack Gibson medal. He was deservedly named the RLPA Player of the Year for 2016 and is destined for greatness.
14. Jayden Brailey (Sharks)
No one would have batted an eyelid had Jayden Brailey been named at hooker with the 'c' next to his name. His numbers were great in 2015, but they were dwarfed by what he achieved the following year. Brailey finished with 1026 tackles (just behind Butcher) and 31 try assists (most in the NYC) in what was arguably the most complete season by any player in recent memory. His ability to savage opposition defences around the ruck was a joy to watch and it's scary to think his younger brother Blayke is just as promising.
15. Addison Demetriou (Sea Eagles)
Meet the man who redefined what it meant to have a cult following. Addison Demetriou wouldn't have made this list if he'd stayed in the front row. Thankfully, in an unprecedented move, he was switched to left centre in Round 15, 2015, and the rest, as they say, is history. In that game he scored two tries, ran for 299 metres and busted 26 tackles (the most in NYC history). He finished the year with 21 tries, 23 line breaks, 4433 metres (third most in history) and a whopping 197 tackle breaks, and along with Tom Trbojevic helped Manly reach the grand final. What he lacked in speed he more than made up for in size as he tormented opposition centres in what often turned out to be unfair mismatches. That he hasn't played NRL is a crying shame.
16. Vaipuna Tia Kilifi (Panthers)
With the silky skills of a five-eighth and the size of a man possessed, Vaipuna Tia Kilifi was a nightmare for edge defenders tasked with trying to stop the Panthers back-rower. His numbers from 2010-12 were stellar, but it was his final season in the NYC that truly stands out. With 17 tries and 68 offloads, Tia Kilifi was a no-brainer for Team of the Year honours.
17. Carlos Tuimavave (Warriors)
Rangy, gifted and highly-skilled, Carlos Tuimavave was the guy who made the difficult look easy and did so on a regular basis. A veteran of 52 matches, the former Warriors five-eighth claimed back-to-back premierships in 2010 and 2011, playing a starring role on both occasions. He was deservedly named in the 2011 and 2012 teams of the year and skippered the Junior Kiwis to a memorable win in 2011.
Coach: John Ackland (Warriors)
As we've seen throughout the years, it takes someone special to bring the best out of the Warriors on a consistent basis. Plenty have tried, but none have enjoyed more success than John Ackland who took them to consecutive premierships in 2010 and 2011. The 2011 Team of the Year coach claimed 74 wins from 108 matches and is the most successful clipboard carrier in NYC history.