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Intrust Super Cup's future NRL stars revealed

It was almost a decade ago that Daly Cherry-Evans announced himself as a rare talent in a breakout season with the Sunshine Coast in the Intrust Super Cup.

A year later in 2011 he was celebrating an NRL title with the Manly Sea Eagles after starring at halfback. Fast forward eight years and Cherry-Evans is the incumbent Test and Maroons halfback.

That is what the Intrust Super Cup does year after year. It provides the conduit for the best of the best to kick-start their careers or to reignite them.

Last year it was Cowboys half Jake Clifford at the Northern Pride who burst onto the scene and earned an NRL debut.

Over the years Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Munster and a plethora of current NRL household names cut their teeth in what is now known as the Intrust Super Cup.

Last year David Fifita took both the  Mal Meninga Cup under 18s and Intrust Super Cup by storm before making his Broncos debut.

Cowboys playmaker Jake Clifford.
Cowboys playmaker Jake Clifford. ©NRL Photos

Who will be next?

In this preview the Intrust Super Cup coaches have their say about the brightest stars on the horizon and those that can reignite stalled careers.

Ipswich Jets: Josh Cleeland

Cleeland was the NSW Cup five-eighth of the year in 2016 and 2017 for Canterbury before leading the Bulldogs to an NRL State Championship title last year where he was player of the match.

Canterbury received more than 100 emails from fans asking for him to be given his NRL debut but Cleeland, back at the Jets where he was a key member of their dual-title wins in 2015, is still to play on the biggest stage.

Josh Cleeland, in action for the Ipswich Jets in 2015, has returned to Ipswich after three seasons at Canterbury.
Josh Cleeland, in action for the Ipswich Jets in 2015, has returned to Ipswich after three seasons at Canterbury. ©

"He didn't play NRL at Canterbury for cap reasons but Josh is ready to play NRL because he is the best player in the Intrust Super Cup," Ipswich co-coach Shane Walker said.

"He has a great running game, football awareness and is a strong defender. He is a genuine footballer like Scott Hill was for the Storm where he was a very good running, passing five-eighth and he could go into the line too and offload.

"It is a travesty that Josh hasn't played NRL. He's not too old. He missed three years as a young bloke through injury, and that layoff will only prolong his career."

Key gains

Peter Gubb (Wynnum-Manly), Josh Cleeland (Canterbury)

Key losses

Dane Phillips, Wes Conlon (retired)

Burleigh Bears: Darius Farmer

Hard running edge back-rowers with a penchant for work are valuable assets to any side which is why Burleigh coach Jimmy Lenihan is predicting a big future for Darius Farmer.

Farmer is set to play his second Intrust Super Cup game off the bench this weekend for the Bears after shining in a pre-season with the Gold Coast Titans and being added to the club's development list.

"Darius debuted for us last year and is still eligible to play in the 20s. He's an edge back-rower who was previously in the Titans junior development system," Lenihan said.

"He's a big, tall thing and runs a really tough line like a classic, hard-running back-rower. He's a lot like Kevin Proctor and I know he looks up to Kevin and bases his game on his. We've got an experienced pack so he's coming into our group at the right time. He won't have to carry the team, just bounce off all the older blokes when they are doing their work."

Darius Farmer playing for the Titans in a trial against the Cowboys.
Darius Farmer playing for the Titans in a trial against the Cowboys. ©NRL Photos

Key gains

Tyronne Roberts-Davis (Gold Coast Titans), Jack Buchanan (Toronto Wolfpack), Jacob Hind (Sunshine Coast Falcons)

Key losses

Matt White (retired), Blake Leary (France)

Northern Pride: Cameron Torpy

New Northern Pride signing Torpy has been likened in playing style to Cronulla's Wade Graham so it is no surprise that coach Ty Williams is excited about the future of the skilful forward.

"Cameron is a young fella who has come out of the Bulldogs 20s. He picked up some injuries over the last couple of years but definitely has the makings of an NRL player," Williams said.

"Cameron is a Wade Graham-type of player. If you put Wade in the middle he'd have the option of carrying the footy strongly and playing with the football, and Cameron is the same. He's essentially a ball-playing 13 with a great work ethic, and away from footy he is outstanding too."

Key gains

Maurice Blair (Hull Kingston Rovers, Cameron Torpy (Canterbury Bulldogs), Brayden Torpy (Easts Tigers)

Key losses

Ryan Ghietti, Brett Anderson (Canterbury Bulldogs), Darryn Schonig (Sunshine Coast)

Norths Devils: Oshae Tuiasau

Tuiasau has been in the Gold Coast Titans system previously and the 21-year-old forward is now in what Devils coach Rohan Smith said was the best shape of his career and ready to press for an NRL deal.

Smith has a long history with Tuiasau, one of the production line of quality forwards to come through the Keebra Park High school system. A dislocated kneecap and torn MCL resulted in Tuiasau missing nine months of action several years ago but he now has his career back on track.

"Oshae is a skilful, big middle who can play on the edge who has good hands and footwork as well," Smith said.

"I've known him for four or five years now and he is a really good young man. He's had some injuries in the past but he was really starting to get on the NRL radar at the back-end of last year."

Key gains

Connor Broadhurst (CQ Capras), Brendan Frei (Sydney Roosters), Nixon Putt (PNG Hunters), Brad Lupi (CQ Capras)

Key losses

John Palavi (Tweed Heads), Carne Doyle-Manga (UK league)

Wynnum-Manly Seagulls: Junior Pauga

Pauga was full-time at the Warriors for two seasons and the 23-year-old centre is on the way back from an ACL injury suffered 18 months ago.

Pauga was regarded at the Warriors as a star of the future and now has a chance to impress the Brisbane Broncos. He regularly chalked up 250m while playing for the Warriors under 20 team and his dazzling feet are also a highlight.

"Junior has a fantastic training attitude and is a really skilful player. He is elusive and an explosive ball runner, a real talent," Seagulls coach Adam Brideson said.

"He is good on his feet and likes to cut back in and beat them back on the inside with footwork that reminds me of Mark Gasnier."

Key gains

Sam Scarlett (Brisbane Broncos), Junior Pauga, Matiu Love-Henry (NZ Warriors), Matt Groat (Easts Tigers)

Key losses

Daniel Ogden (retired), Mitchell Frei (Souths-Logan), Peter Gubb (Ipswich Jets)

CQ Capras: Bill Cullen

The Capras will be coached by former Kiwi international David Faiumu this year, who likes the look of versatile back-rower Bill Cullen.

The 23-year-old spent a season at the Canberra Raiders in 2017 but was unable to crack the NRL. With former South Sydney and Gold Coast star Eddy Pettybourne now on the Capras books, Cullen has an outstanding mentor on board to help him develop his game.

"Billy plays on the left edge. He is tough. He's ready for NRL and size-wise he fits the bill," Faiumu said.

"Attitude-wise he is a great leader and the ultimate team player."

Key gains

Eddy Pettybourne (Toulouse, France), Matthew Wright (Manly Sea Eagles), Kainoa Gudgeon (Tweed Heads Seagulls), Bessie Aufaga To’omaga (Cronulla Sharks)

Key losses

Connor Broadhurst (Norths Devils), Oliver Percy (Burleigh), Jerry Key (North Sydney Bears)

Match Highlights: Bulldogs v Dolphins - State Championship

Mackay Cutters: Jordan Kenworthy

The Cutters have picked up several players from the Townsville Blackhawks in the off-season with former Cowboys under 20s forward Kenworthy on track for a bright future.

Kenworthy's arrival has come at the right time in the wake of boom prop Jordan Grant's exit to the Redcliffe Dolphins.

"Jordan has everything that an NRL coach would want. He gets forward, he’s got good contact, runs the ball hard and can play before and after the line," Cutters coach Steve Sheppard said.

"I am excited to be reunited with him after I coached him in under 20s a few years back. He's spent a couple of years at the Blackhawks and played Queensland Rangers last year.

"Jordan is similar in style to Josh McGuire with his competitive nature. He likes to get up in people's faces. He's a quiet lad but loves the contest, and loves even more to come out on the right side of it."

Key gains

Jordan Kenworthy, Ross Bella (Townsville Blackhawks), Alex Gerrard (Widnes Vikings), Marcus Jensen (Townsville Brothers)

Key losses

Nicho Hynes (Sunshine Coast Falcons), Jack Joass (Souths-Logan), Jordan Grant (Redcliffe Dolphins)

Souths-Logan Magpies: Gerome Burns

Burns is a fullback from Toowoomba who played Broncos under 20s before starring for Norths Devils in their Hastings Deering Colts title win last year.

Burns has long caught the eye of Souths-Logan coach Jon Buchanan for the way he throws himself into the fray and his ability to create opportunities for the players around him.

"I saw him play for the Broncos against Wynnum in a trial in the wet last year and he was really courageous in a tough, physical game," Buchanan said.

"He has a bit of X factor about him and I am really excited about what he can bring to our footy team. Gerome has played two trials for us and had two or three try assists and potentially he could go to the next level if has a strong 12 to 18 months."

Key gains

Mitchell Frei (Wynnum-Manly), Matt Soper-Lawler (Sunshine Coast), Gerome Burns (Norths/Broncos), Linc Port (Easts Tigers)

Key losses

Sam Scarlett (Wynnum), Travis Waddell (Dubbo)

Easts Tigers: Matt Cooper

Cooper was the Newcastle Knights' NYC player of the year in 2017 and has just completed a pre-season at the Melbourne Storm where he fine-tuned his fullback play.

He knows how to sniff out a try and is learning to be more of a leader at organising the defensive line.

"Matt did pre-season with the Melbourne Storm and has been one our best in the trials where he scored four tries in two games against Burleigh and Ipswich," Easts coach Scott Sipple said.

"His strength is his running game where he is pretty quick and he is slowly developing his passing game and his talk. If Matt knuckles down I can't see why he can’t get back into an NRL system after impressing both our players and coaching staff with his development."

Key gains

Tom Hughes, Matt Cooper (Newcastle Knights), Aaron Booth, Bennett Leslie (Mackay Cutters)

Key losses

David Tyrrell (retired), Linc Port (Souths-Logan)

Redcliffe Dolphins: Jamil Hopoate

Hopoate is on a train and trial deal at the Broncos where he has already made a strong impression with his pre-season work ethic and with his performances in two trials for Brisbane. The son of John Hopoate, and brother to Canterbury star William Hopoate, Jamil is a back-rower with all the skills.

Jamil Hopoate on the fly for the Redcliffe Dolphins in 2018.
Jamil Hopoate on the fly for the Redcliffe Dolphins in 2018. ©

"Hoppa has a unique skill set which I think is a real advantage to him," Redcliffe coach Adam Mogg said.

"He has the footwork of an outside back and the ball skills of a five-eighth and plays in the second-row or lock forward. He can also play a little bit of nine. From an NRL perspective I can see him making a real impact in breaking down opposition defences.

"Jamil is a great kid and fantastic to coach. I know the Broncos have been really happy with him and all the players feel the same way we do about Hoppa."

Key gains

Jordan Grant, Nick Brown (Mackay Cutters), Harrison Smith (Cronulla Sharks)

Key losses

Sam Anderson (Maitland Pickers), Nick Slyney (retired), Toby Rudolf (Cronulla Sharks)

Tweed Heads Seagulls: John Palavi

Palavi made his NRL debut for the Warriors in 2014 and Tweed Heads coach Ben Woolf insists the 26-year-old forward is ready to reignite his career after a strong pre-season training with the Gold Coast Titans.

A late bloomer, Palavi is tipped to give Titans coach Garth Brennan plenty of reasons to watch Seagulls games this year.

"John has made a really good impression at the Titans and has good leadership and trains at a high intensity. He is a big, strong and skilful forward as well," Woolf said.

Former Warriors forward John Palavi, pictured in action for Norths in 2018, is tipped to revive his career at Tweed Heads this year.
Former Warriors forward John Palavi, pictured in action for Norths in 2018, is tipped to revive his career at Tweed Heads this year. ©

“He would be about six foot two and has a really good skill base and a strong work rate. All the feedback we have suggests he has been really competitive at Titans training after coming to us from Norths. He did a few pre-seasons at the Warriors and he is ready to get back to that level again."

Key gains

John Palavi (Norths Devils), Christian Hazard, Kurtis Dark (Newcastle Knights)

Key losses

Brayden McGrady (Penrith Panthers), Eli Levido (Illawarra Cutters)

Sunshine Coast Falcons: Nicho Hynes

Hynes is a sturdy five-eighth recruited from Mackay who has already caught the eye of the Melbourne Storm.

New Falcons coach Eric Smith, a former Storm NYC coach, said the new addition to his squad had "super special skills" that made him a young gun to watch.

"Nicho has a really decent frame for a five-eighth and is a strong runner of the footy who moves really well out wide," Smith said.

"He has silky skills and has improved a lot after doing a pre-season down in Melbourne with Darryn Schonig and the coaches down there were impressed with both of them.

Nicho Hynes, pictured playing for Mackay last year, has made a move to the Sunshine Coast Falcons.
Nicho Hynes, pictured playing for Mackay last year, has made a move to the Sunshine Coast Falcons. ©

"Nicho's preferred position is five-eighth but he can play fullback as well. He's a big, strong body who could probably also play out in the centres."

Key gains

Todd Murphy (Brisbane Broncos), Nicho Hynes, Darryn Schonig (Mackay Cutters), Jonathan Reuben (Townsville Blackhawks)

Key losses

Matt Soper-Lawler, Harrison Muller (Souths-Logan), Jacob Hind (Burleigh Bears), Rhys Jacks (Easts Tigers)

Townsville Blackhawks: Tom Gilbert

Cowboys legend Aaron Payne has taken the reins at the Blackhawks this year and has identified 18-year-old forward and Queensland representative Gilbert as a player to watch.

It is Gilbert's maturity and ultra-competitive nature that has most impressed Payne.

"Tom played for the Cowboys in the trial against the Titans and is the ultimate professional and a fantastic young kid. I don't think it is a matter of if he is going to play first grade, it is a matter of when," Payne said.

"The style of football he plays you wouldn't think he was so young. He doesn't take a backward step. Tom is not massive for someone who plays in the middle but his other qualities outweigh his size. He is really aggressive and competes all the time like Josh McGuire."

Key gains

Shaun Nona (Brisbane Broncos), Michael Parker-Walshe (Townsville Brothers), Sam Hoare, Josh Chudleigh, Kyle Laybutt, Shaun Hudson (North Queensland Cowboys)

Key losses

Andrew Davey (Parramatta Eels), Jonathon Reuben (Sunshine Coast Falcons)

PNG Hunters: Brandon Nima

Former Storm premiership winner Marcus Bai was a trailblazer for all aspiring Kumul outside backs to follow in his footsteps and there are high hopes new PNG Hunters signing Nima can do exactly that.

"Nima is a centre/winger who reminds me of Marcus Bai with his strength and speed," Hunters coach Michael Marum said.

"He played in the Digicel Cup grand final last year [for Goroka Lahanis] and in an international against England [Knights]. He's had a good pre-season and I can't wait to see how he goes for us this year. He is fast and strong and off the field he is a good."

Key gains

Brandon Nima (Goroka Lahanis), Bland Abavu (Fassifern Bombers), Gairo Kapana (Rabaul Gurias)

Key losses

Ase Boas, Watson Boas (Featherstone Rovers), Rahdly Brawa (Wynnum-Manly), Wartovu Puara, Willie Minoga (Barrow Raiders)


Acknowledgement of Country

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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