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Truly Immortal: Johns' debut crowned best of modern era

After more than 65,000 votes, the fans have crowned the eight Immortal, Andrew Johns, as the player who has made the best NRL debut of the modern era.

The race came down to Johns up against Panthers rookie Charlie Staines, who scored four tries recently in a memorable first start in the big league, but the Newcastle legend scored a comfortable victory over his modern-day counterpart.

In his first start for the Knights in the opening round of the 1994 season, Johns tallied 23 points from two tries, seven goals and a field goal as Newcastle trounced Souths 43-14.

NRL.com recently launched the search for the Simply The Best players from 1990 to now to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the iconic Tina Turner promotional campaign, which was again featured in this year's advertisement for the Telstra Premiership, and has been calling on the fans to have their say on a range of topics on the modern era.

Fans had the chance to via this article and polls on the official NRL Instagram and Facebook accounts to decide once and for all which player was Simply The Best debut performer.

The NRL.com newsroom initially narrowed it down to the best 10 candidates.

Such was the strength of the options, there was no room for the likes of Wests Tigers stalwart Chris Lawrence, Sharks winger Stewart Mills, Bradman Best for his efforts with Newcastle earlier this year, an 18-year-old Darren Lockyer's cameo off the bench for Brisbane in 1995 or current Broncos star Payne Haas's 21-minute effort two years ago.

Best NRL debuts of the past 30 years

(in chronological order)

1994 (round 1) – Andrew Johns

Some 18 years before he became the game's eighth Immortal, "Joey" took his first steps onto the big stage with a performance that gave notice of what was to come.

Playing alongside brother Matthew in the halves, 19-year-old Andrew helped himself to 23 points from two tries, seven goals and a field goal as the Knights belted Souths 43-14. A star was born.

98. Andrew Johns - Hall of Fame

2000 (round 14) - Amos Roberts

The flashy winger lit up WIN Stadium with a try and nine goals for a personal haul of 22 points against the Warriors.

Roberts' haul is the equal highest in a match for St George lllawarra - it was matched by Jamie Soward in 2007 and then Gareth Widdop three times during his time at the Dragons.

"Famous Amos" would go on to play four seasons at the Dragons before stints with Penrith and the Roosters.

Amos Roberts started his career in style with St George Illawarra in 2000.
Amos Roberts started his career in style with St George Illawarra in 2000. ©NRL Photos

2003 – (round 1) Billy Slater

Debuting on the wing at Shark Park, he gave the first glimpse of the speed, footwork and anticipation which would make him one of the game's greatest ever fullbacks.

After trailing 22-0, the Storm produced the biggest comeback in club history to win 36-32 and the celebrations were made even sweeter by the realisation they had uncovered a superstar in 19-year-old Slater, who scored the first of his 190 career tries with a scintillating 60-metre dash out of dummy half.

A legend retires - Slater's career highlights

2004 – (round 1) Sonny Bill Williams

Just 18 at the time, SBW imposed his will on the Parramatta Eels to such an extent that they were left clueless as how to stop the giant Bulldog.

Playing in the centres, the gifted Kiwi scored a try and set up another as Canterbury launched their premiership-winning season with a stunning 48-14 victory over their arch-rivals.

Sonny Bill-Williams scores his first try in the NRL

2008– (round 1) Jordan Atkins

At the age of 25, Atkins could have been forgiven for thinking he'd never get a crack at the big time but the unassuming Titan some ensured the wait was worth it when he produced a stunning four-try haul for the Titans against the Cowboys.

Only Johnno Stuntz in 1908 and Tony Nash in 1942 had scored four tries in a first-grade debut and Atkins's haul included a spectacular leap and put-down off a Scott Prince kick.

He would score only seven more tries in his career but for one magical March night, Atkins was the toast of the NRL.

Jordan Atkins touches down for the Titans against the Cowboys in round one of 2008.
Jordan Atkins touches down for the Titans against the Cowboys in round one of 2008. ©NRL Photos

2008 – (round 13) Chris Sandow

Enigmatic. Electric. Exhilarating. 

Sandow was all this during a 159-game career which began across the Tasman in the middle of the '08 season with the Bunnies looking for their first win in Auckland since 1999.

With the game on the line, the super confident 19-year-old nailed a drop kick in miserable conditions to give his side a shock 35-28 win.

Chris Sandow's enthusiasm made him a fan favourite at Souths.
Chris Sandow's enthusiasm made him a fan favourite at Souths.

2010 – (round 12) Dean Whare

Whare became the first Sea Eagle to score a hat-trick on debut as he blitzed the Cowboys with three tries in the first half.

Just 20 at the time, Whare got a late call-up to Des Hasler's starting side and showed the speed and evasive skills which have served him so well over a decade-long career which continues today at the Panthers.

Whare's debut heroics remain the only hat-trick of his career.

Dean Whare is swamped by Manly teammates after scoring in his NRL debut against the Cowboys.
Dean Whare is swamped by Manly teammates after scoring in his NRL debut against the Cowboys. ©NRL Photos

2010 - (round 22) Dylan Farrell

A star for Souths in the NYC in 2010, Farrell earned a call-up to first grade late in the season and the 19-year-old delivered big time against Wests Tigers at Stadium Australia.

Having already scored in the 14th and 53rd minutes, Farrell then lived out every kid's dream when he grabbed the match-winning try in golden point to give his side a 34-30 win.

Remarkably, Farrell would collect a second hat-trick just four games into the 2011 to give him two in the first nine games of his career.

Dylan Farrell burst onto the scene with Souths in 2010.
Dylan Farrell burst onto the scene with Souths in 2010. ©NRL Photos

2013 - (round 23) Luke Brooks

Brooks debuted on a grand stage at the SCG as Wests Tigers and the Dragons celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1963 grand final between Saints and Wests which ended with the famous embrace between mud splattered captains Norm Provan and Arthur Summons.

Brooks laid on tries for Curtis Sironen and Tim Simona before scoring one himself in an assured display which justified the hype around the teenaged playmaker.

Luke Brooks on the run on debut at the SCG.
Luke Brooks on the run on debut at the SCG. ©NRL Photos

2020 – (round 9) Charlie Staines

The kid from Forbes exploded onto the NRL scene with four tries in Penrith's thumping win over the Sharks just a week ago.

Called into Ivan Cleary's side as a replacement for Dean Whare, 19-year-old Staines became the first player to score four tries on debut since Atkins in 2008.

From Forbes, to Flegg, to four on debut