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Debutants' ball: Rookies ready to rumble in round one

After putting in the hard yards during the pre-season and grabbing their opportunities in the trials, four youngsters get their shot at a dream in round one of the Telstra Premiership.

From a Sea Eagles speedster to a Knights enforcer, from a Storm son of a gun to the nephew of Raiders royalty, the rookies will take their first steps on the path to what they hope will be long and successful NRL careers.

Tolutau Koula (Sea Eagles)

In a backline already blessed with abundant speed, the addition of teenage flyer Koula is enough to give opposition defences nightmares.

A product of renowned rugby union nursery Newington College, Koula clocked a sizzling 10.58 secs for the 100m at a GPS athletics carnival in 2019, a year after winning the Harold Matthews premiership with Manly.

Koula and Saab show just how fast they are

The 19-year-old impressed in his two trials for Manly, running for 124 metres against Canberra in Gosford and 113 metres with two tackle breaks against Wests Tigers at Leichhardt.

Koula will come from the bench in his NRL debut tonight and Sea Eagles fans will be hoping to see the flying machine in open spaces when his opportunity comes.

It should come as no surprise that Koula can motor given that his father represented Tonga in the 100m at three successive Olympics in 1992, 1996 and 2000 and his mum was also an Olympian.

James Schiller will debut in the centres for the Raiders.
James Schiller will debut in the centres for the Raiders.

James Schiller (Raiders)

Born in Young, Schiller is the nephew of Raiders great Brett Mullins, the third highest try-scorer in the Green Machine’s proud history.

The 20-year-old made four appearances for the Dragons in NSW Cup in 2021 before COVID brought the season to a halt.

A strongly built centre, Schiller chalked up three tries and 15 tackle breaks in those four games, catching the eye of Canberra’s talent scouts.

He signed with the Raiders in October last year and has earned himself a shot in Ricky Stuart’s starting 13 on the back of a strong pre-season and an impressive trial showing against the Roosters where he ran for 92 metres and had two line breaks and a try assist.

Leo Thompson (Knights)

The Kiwi-born 21-year-old tips the scales at 107kg and will add plenty of grunt to Adam O’Brien’s pack as they lock horns with JWH and the Roosters.

Thompson grew up playing rugby union in Hawke’s Bay on New Zealand’s north island, first as a halfback and then a centre, before moving to Australia at the end of 2019 and switching codes.

Thompson 'buzzing' ahead of NRL debut

He headed to the Raiders at the start of last year but was starved of opportunities in a season heavily impacted by COVID.

An opportunity arose to join the Knights and the impressive youngster has grabbed it with both hands.

“I knew there was a few spots there and that was my goal to make the top 30,” Thompson said. “I’m buzzing. I haven’t seen my mum for almost three years and she’ll be here to watch me will be unreal.”

Tyran Wishart (Storm)

The son of Steelers legend Rod Wishart, 22-year-old Tyran is ready to blaze his own trail in Melbourne, snaring the hooking role for his debut appearance against Wests Tigers.

Some outstanding trial form, coupled with the absence of Harry Grant, has opened the door for the lively playmaker to stake a claim for a permanent spot in Craig Bellamy’s 17-man squad.

A Wishart scoring again in the top grade

After playing seven matches for the Dragons in NSW Cup last year, Wishart was snapped up by the Storm on a deal which keeps him in Melbourne until the end of 2023.

“He has some explosive speed and I think in any position in rugby league your first 10-15 metres of acceleration are very important,” says proud dad Rod.

“The Melbourne Storm are probably leading the pack when it comes to developing their players so at least I know that down there he could turn into the player he really could be whereas when I was growing up a lot of it was on your own bat.”

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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