Stat Attack: Who are the rookie of the year candidates?
With the 2018 Telstra Premiership now on the home stretch, NRL.com Stats has crunched the numbers to analyse which young players are best placed to nab this year's title of Rookie of the Year at the end of season Dally M Awards.
To qualify for Rookie of the Year, the player must not have played more than four NRL games prior to the current season. Players are also ineligible if they have been suspended two or more times, which rules out Roosters young gun Victor Radley who would otherwise have been on the short list.
Jamayne Isaako (Broncos)
Key stat: 161 points in 18 matches (second in NRL)
Widely considered a front-runner after 19 rounds, the Kiwi-born former Shark debuted for Brisbane last year, playing just one game. He has been a match-winner for Brisbane on several occasions this year, kicking every point of a controversial 9-7 win over Wests Tigers in round three and a 16-point haul including a stunning late solo try in a round 11 thriller against the Roosters. A recent switch to fullback hands him a platform to truly stamp himself over the closing rounds of the competition.
Jesse Ramien (Sharks)
Key stat: Nine tries in 14 games, including tries in six straight matches
A looming 2019 move north to Newcastle hasn't stopped Ramien forcing his way into Cronulla's regular starting 13 and becoming a key member of Shane Flanagan's backline. Incredibly tough to stop one-on-one, the powerful centre has made a habit of scoring tries out of nothing. Like Isaako he made his debut last year but played just a single game, remaining eligible for this year's rookie award.
Rhyse Martin (Bulldogs)
Key Stat: 93.75% goal-kicking accuracy
Canterbury's Papua New Guinea International has been something of a mature-age rookie this year but the 25-year-old has quickly stamped himself as a fan favourite in an otherwise struggling team. Martin's bread and butter is powerful edge running and a big defensive workload but it's arguably his goal-kicking that has been the most eye-catching facet of his game. Martin has slotted 15 goals from 16 attempts with four tries as well in just eight games. Three of those tries and six goals came in a memorable late loss to Canberra at Belmore
Junior Tatola (Rabbitohs)
Key Stat: 92.8% tackle efficiency
Wests Tigers junior and former Junior Kangaroo Junior Tatola is probably the most unheralded name on this list but his contribution to South Sydney's stunning rebuild this year should not go unmentioned. Since making his NRL debut at his new club in round one, Tatola has played every single game this year and made his Test debut for Tonga. The Bunnies are the most dominant team in the opening 20 minutes of games but Tatola is a big part of the reason why they don't slip away once Tom and George Burgess get a rest. Tatola averages just 30 minutes of game time but racks up an average of 66 metres and 18 tackles in that time.
AJ Brimson (Titans)
Key Stat: 133 supports in nine games
Young Titans playmaker AJ Brimson has looked comfortable with the step up to NRL level since being asked to take over at five-eighth from Kane Elgey and Bryce Cartwright in round 10. He has been allowed to focus on his running game, racking up 133 support runs and an average of 73 metres per game with two tries and 14 busts. He would need a big finish to the year to displace some of the other names on this list for the rookie title but looks to have a future at this level.
Brandon Smith (Storm)
Key Stat: 89.4% tackle efficiency
Young utility forward Brandon Smith currently shapes as the successor to Cameron Smith's purple No.9 jersey but has made his presence felt elsewhere in the forward pack in the meantime. Along with Victor Radley, Smith is one of the hardest hitters in the game despite being neither the biggest or most experienced. Blues lock Jack De Belin is still battling a hip-pointer injury since being drilled by Smith back in round nine. Smith played three games last season, making him technically the most experienced player on this list.
Other stars of the future
There have been almost 50 debuts handed out in 2018 so far; players like Adam Doueihi, Enari Tuala, Christian Crichton, Jack Hetherington, Sharks winger Sione Katoa, Kotoni Staggs, Lachlan Lewis, Marata Niukore, Moeaki Fotuaika, Taniela Paseka and Manase Fainu are among those that look set for long NRL careers and could all have forced their way into the short list if they'd had greater opportunities or a few more big performances.