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Stepping up: Your club's rookie to watch in 2022

They're the next crop of stars set to light up the NRL Telstra Premiership.

After a stellar rookie class in 2021 that included the likes of Sam Walker and Reece Walsh, previews the players in line to become household names.

Only those players with fewer than five first-grade games were deemed rookies for this list (in line with the Dally M Rookie of the Year criteria).

Rookies to watch in 2022

Brisbane Broncos – Ezra Mam

  • Date of birth: 31/01/2003
  • Position: Halfback
  • NRL games: Yet to debut

A young gun playmaker who has been in the Broncos system since he was 13, Ezra Mam made inroads in 2021 while playing for Souths Logan in the Intrust Super Cup, taking out the rookie of the year honours after a season that included an astonishing 13 tries, 8 try assists and 7 goals in just 11 games. With the Broncos likely to tinker with their five-eighth option alongside Adam Reynolds throughout the year, Mam could very well find himself partnering the former Rabbitohs veteran.

Rookie to watch: Ezra Mam

Canberra Raiders – Xavier Savage

  • Date of birth: 24/4/2002
  • Position: Fullback
  • NRL games: 2

The highlights reel is already in full swing for Xavier Savage with the Raiders flyer making an immediate impact in his two (and a half) games of first grade in 2021. Although his accidental appearance as 18th man in June caused confusion, Savage's official debut in round 17 and a five-star performance a week later against Cronulla immediately showed what he has to offer. Despite off-season shoulder surgery, the Cairns junior showed no ill effects in a recent trial win against the Roosters.

Xavier Savage impresses in his first hit out of 2022

Canterbury Bulldogs – Joshua Cook

  • Date of birth: 21/6/1999
  • Position: Hooker
  • NRL games: Yet to debut

Stuck behind his namesake Damien Cook at South Sydney for two seasons, Josh Cook arrives at the Bulldogs with plenty of promise and is likely to get a shot at dummy half in 2022 with Trent Barrett not particularly settled on his spine. An under 16s NSW representative, Cook has had the perfect apprenticeship under the NSW and Australian hooker in recent years and despite not playing any footy in 2021 due to a shoulder injury and COVID-19 pandemic, the 22-year-old is coming into the best phase of his career to show his worth in the NRL.

Cronulla Sharks - Franklin Pele

  • Date of birth: 18/12/2000
  • Position: Prop
  • NRL games: 1

If the highlights from the trials are anything to go by, Sharks rookie Franklin Pele is in for a big year after a foot injury hampered most of his 2021 season. The New Zealand-born front-rower, who moved to Australia at a young age, has come through the Sharks development system. He was named in the Australian Schoolboys side in 2018 alongside the likes of Bradman Best, Stephen Crichton and Tom Dearden.

Franklin Pele gets some miles in the legs

Gold Coast Titans - Toby Sexton

  • Date of birth: 1/3/2001
  • Position: Halfback
  • NRL games: 4

Already four games into his NRL career but Toby Sexton is set to play a huge role for the club in 2022 following the departures of former co-captain Jamal Fogarty and Ash Taylor in the halves. Throw in utility Tyrone Peachey's departure and Sexton will have near full control of the side this season. Born in Sunnybank, the 20-year-old couldn't have had a better debut in 2021, scoring a try and kicking six goals before Fogarty and Peachey eventually returned to the halves for the finals.

Welcome to the NRL, Toby Sexton!

Manly Sea Eagles - Tolutau Koula

  • Date of birth: 2/9/2002
  • Position: Fullback/centre
  • NRL games: Yet to debut

An out-and-out speedster who joins the Manly top-30 squad in 2022, Koula's father represented Tonga at the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games as a sprinter. Koula himself clocked a record-breaking 10.58 seconds over 100 metres at a GPS carnival and scored a long-range try in the pre-season trial match against the Raiders. He starts the season behind Brad Parker and Morgan Harper but look for him to get a taste of NRL this year.

Tolutau Koula highlights against the Wests Tigers

Melbourne Storm - Jack Howarth

  • Date of birth: 22/10/2002
  • Position: Centre
  • NRL games: Yet to debut

Fresh out of high school and into Melbourne's top 30 squad for a second season, Jack Howarth is a name many are likely to come familiar with in the next few years after the juggernaut club signed the promising centre until at least the end of 2027. A Mackay product who has represented the Australian Schoolboys, Howarth is a tall frame who is expect to break into the Storm's backline in the coming seasons. 

Melbourne rookie Jack Howarth is one to watch out for

Newcastle Knights - Jirah Momoisea

  • Date of birth: 2/9/1998
  • Position: Prop/Second row
  • NRL games: 3

Rising forward Jirah Momoisea started his senior journey in the Storm's under 20s system before moving to Newcastle in 2018. A ruptured achilles in the 2021 pre-season halted his career momentum before Knights coach Adam O'Brien handed him an NRL debut last year. While prop is his preferred position, the 23-year-old has started the 2022 season on the edge and could provide the Knights with a point of difference throughout the year.

Momoisea surges through

North Queensland Cowboys – Jeremiah Nanai

  • Date of birth: 18/02/2003
  • Position: Second row
  • NRL games: 4

Nanai just turned 19 and already has four NRL games under his belt after debuting in round 22 last year against Wests Tigers, scoring a try off the bench, and playing the final four games of the season. New Zealand-born but Cairns raised, the Cairns Kangaroos junior is a potential long-term Cowboy who will press for a bigger role in Todd Payten's squad this year.

Jeremiah Nanai scores a debut try you have to see to believe

Parramatta Eels - Sean Russell

  • Date of birth: 27/05/2002
  • Position: Fullback/wing
  • NRL games: 2

Versatile teenager Sean Russell is an Eels junior who came through the Rouse Hill Rams and St Pat's Blacktown alongside Jakob Arthur. Capable of playing wing, centre and fullback, Russell is set to be thrust straight into the NRL action this year following injuries to Maika Sivo and Haze Dunster and the departure of Blake Ferguson. He scored eight tries in 12 Knock On Effect NSW Cup games last year and two tries in his round 15 NRL debut.

Make that a double on debut for Russell

Penrith Panthers - Taylan May

  • Date of birth: 19/8/2001
  • Position: Centre
  • NRL games: 1

Young gun Taylan May wasn't expecting to make his NRL debut in 2021 with all the firepower in Penrith's line-up but the 20-year-old quickly found himself out there in the middle against a star-studded Sydney Roosters line-up. The younger brother of former Panthers player Tyrone May, Taylan has spent all his junior career in the Panthers system and will be eyeing off a centre spot long-term in the years to come. 

Brotherly love: Tyrone presents Taylan his debut jersey

South Sydney Rabbitohs - Lachlan Ilias

  • Date of birth: 9/5/2000
  • Position: Halfback
  • NRL games: 1

It's been a while since an NRL rookie had bigger shoes to fill than Ilias will when taking over from Adam Reynolds this season. After three seasons in the South Sydney system, Ilias made a try-scoring debut in round 25 last year. A former Australian Schoolboys rugby union representative, Ilias guided the Bunnies to a Jersey Flegg title in 2019 and now has a chance to guide the senior team around the park alongside veteran five-eighth Cody Walker.

Lachlan Ilias nails a 20/40

St George Illawarra Dragons - Jonathon Reuben

  • Date of birth: 3/10/1993
  • Position: Wing
  • NRL games: Yet to debut

Definitely the most mature-age rookie on this list, long-serving Intrust Super Cup winger Jonathon Reuben has earned a development deal at the Dragons at the age of 28. A try-scoring ace over a long period for the Blackhawks, Falcons, Dolphins and Devils, Reuben has notched an impressive 107 tries in 106 games. He scored another in the pre-season trial against the Eels and got a few minutes on field in the Charity Shield.

Reuben puts the Dragons in the lead

Sydney Roosters - Naufahu Whyte

  • Date of birth: 4/4/2002
  • Position: Second row
  • NRL games: 3

Very mobile and agile for a big man with good footwork, Whyte is a line-running edge forward who knows how to sniff out a try. Still just 19, the Auckland-born Bay Roskill junior earned three NRL caps last year, all off the bench, and is set to add to that tally this year. He scored five tries in seven games for the North Sydney Bears in 2021, playing 80 minutes in five of those games.

Whyte breaks through

Warriors - Taniela Otukolo

  • Date of birth: 22/5/2002
  • Position: Hooker
  • NRL games: 3

Teenage rake Otukolo got a taste of NRL footy with three games in 2021 and got some more time in the pre-season trial against the Storm. A Warriors junior who is sharp out of dummy-half, Otukolo is a member of the Warriors top 30 and on the books through to 2024. Expect to see plenty more of him in the NRL this season.

Wests Tigers – Jock Madden

  • Date of birth: 7/3/2000
  • Position: Halfback
  • NRL games: 3

Wests Tigers fans got a glimpse of highly-rated young halfback Madden towards the end of 2021, with the Scone Thoroughbreds junior earning a debut off the bench and two starts at five-eighth. He will start the year behind senior half Luke Brooks and recruit Jackson Hastings but is likely to add to his three NRL caps as the year goes on. A former Australian Schoolboy and New South Wales junior representative and 2021 Magpies player of the year, Madden is a controlling halfback with a strong kicking game.

Madden places it perfectly for Leilua

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