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10 NRL young guns of RLWC 2017

The 2017 Rugby League World Cup is set to unearth players on the world stage that will springboard them into the next decade of dominance in the National Rugby League. 

England front-rower James Graham was a then 22-year-old forward in England's 2008 World Cup squad and now finds himself 135 games into an NRL career after a move to Australia four years later. 

English hooker James Roby also used the tournament less than a decade ago to kick-start a big career in the English Super League, repeatedly turning down offers from NRL clubs throughout that period. 

We saw Fijian winger Akuila Uate burst onto the international scene at the same time and immediately grab the attention of the rugby league world with five tries in four games. 

Two years later he went on to represent Australia. 

Fiji teammate Jarryd Hayne used the 2008 tournament to rediscover form for the Fijian side following his axing in the Australian side months prior. He now finds himself in a similar position after a poor season with the Gold Coast Titans.

Tyson Frizell played for Wales during the 2013 tournament and now finds himself in Australia's 24-man squad. 

Sydney Roosters recruit James Tedesco was a key member of Italy's one win and draw in the 2013 tournament – a campaign he credits for getting him back on track following a serious ACL knee injury 12 months earlier.

St George Illawarra skipper Gareth Widdop was promoted from a bench spot into the halves for England in a career first during the same tournament – a position he's now cemented at NRL level for the St George Illawarra Dragons. 

This year, more young players are set to use the tournament to either take their game to a new level against quality opposition or put themselves on the radar for NRL clubs to take notice. 

Tom Trbojevic (Australia) 

The 21-year-old would have played State of Origin in 2017 if it weren't for an ankle injury and shapes as the future Australian fullback after a strong season in the NRL. While he isn't playing in Australia's opening game against England on Friday night, the Sea Eagles custodian should get a chance to feature later on in the tournament and the experience itself should see Trbojevic's game rise to another level – the level he's shown glimpses of but is still yet to completely nail down. 

Jack Johns (Italy) 

The young Newcastle Knights five-eighth will get a taste of the international arena at just 20 years of age despite being one of many who are yet to feature at NRL level. With a surname famous in rugby league circles, the son of Matthew Johns is set to line up alongside an experienced Terry Campese in the halves, while rubbing shoulders with NRL stars James Tedesco, Paul Vaughan and Nathan Brown. While the Knights are set to give new recruit Connor Watson and young half Brock Lamb first crack in the halves next season, a strong tournament from Johns against quality opposition could throw a spanner in the works for Newcastle coach Nathan Brown. 

Alex Twal (Lebanon)

Twal made the mid-season switch from Parramatta to the Wests Tigers in 2017 and was immediately rewarded with an NRL debut, putting in some seriously consistent performances off the bench. He can continue to put his hand up for selection in Ivan Cleary's side next season with strong performances against France, Australia and England in the group stages. While he's not the biggest prop-forward going around, Twal's versatility and work-rate could see coach Brad Fittler use him for longer minutes than he's used to at NRL level. 

Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Australia) 

Injuries and withdrawals in the Kangaroos forward pack may have helped the Panthers prop into the Australian squad but there is no denying on potential alone Campbell-Gillard has what it takes to cement a position in the green and gold long into the future. Despite Campbell-Gillard's run of impressive late-season form coming off the bench at Penrith, Australian coach Mal Meninga has resisted the urge to play the 24-year-old against England but look for him to debut in the Kangaroos' clash with Lebanon later on in the campaign. Kiwis enforcer Marty Taupau took it to Campbell-Gillard in the first week of the NRL finals so look out for a rematch if the two nations come toe-to-toe in the semi-final stages.

Danny Levi (New Zealand) 

Like several players at the Knights, Kiwi hooker Danny Levi has seen far more first grade than the average teenager would in the last three seasons in club land. He now gets a chance to take his game to a new level behind a big forward pack led by Adam Blair, Simon Mannering and Marty Taupau. While he has been named to come off the bench against Samoa, the 21-year-old has been earmarked as Issac Luke's long-term replacement and should come out of the tournament with a new insight to the game to take back to Newcastle. 

Jarome Luai (Samoa) 

Originally stunned at his selection in the squad, young Panthers utility Jarome Luai will have to wait at least another week to debut with veteran Joseph Paulo preferred at five-eighth against a strong New Zealand outfit on Saturday night. However with the ability to play in the halves or the outside backs, look for the Penrith prodigy to push his way into the side as Samoa's campaign progresses. With Panthers teammate Tyrone May out for an extended period and uncertainty over Matt Moylan's future at Penrith, any experience at this level for the 20-year-old is going to be beneficial for his future NRL aspirations.  

Suliasi Vunivalu (Fiji) 

It may be hard to believe but Melbourne Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu heads into the World Cup as a fresh-faced 21-year-old who only made his international debut for Fiji in June. The try-scoring flyer has 46 tries in 47 appearances for Melbourne and in similar vein to Semi Radradra in 2013, has proved unstoppable in his first two seasons of NRL. Away from the might of the Storm it could prove a different story however, so we watch on with intrigue as to how many four-pointers Vunivalu can cross for during the tournament. 

Bilal Maarbani (Lebanon) 

An apprentice electrician by day, young Manly Sea Eagles winger Bilal Maarbani caps off a stellar season in the under-20s to head into camp with plenty of confidence. A fullback or centre, Maarbani is a former Bulldogs junior who will use the World Cup experience as a stepping stone into the next stage of his career as he chases an NRL debut. With Lebanon set to play heavyweights Australia and England in the group stages, the result of Sunday afternoon's clash against France could dictate whether the utility back gets a chance later on in Lebanon's campaign. 

Jacob Saifiti (Fiji) 

Fresh from signing a new two-year extension at the Knights, prop Jacob Saifiti will see this tournament as a big opportunity to kick on following a solid second season in the NRL. After receiving a huge rap from Australia and Fiji legend Petero Civoniceva mid-year, Saifiti will be one to watch coming off the bench against the USA on Saturday night.

Kato Ottio (PNG)

Papua New Guinea and Canberra flyer Kato Ottio is another player chasing an NRL start 2018 and he can use a starting centre spot against Wales as the first opportunity to impress coach Ricky Stuart. Injury has plagued the early stages of Ottio's career in the nation's capital but a strong campaign for the Kumuls could put his name back on the NRL radar.


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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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