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The Telstra Premiership finals are here and while the stars will no doubt shine, some of the lesser-known quantities across the eight teams will have crucial roles to play. 

From the tireless toilers to those whose contributions go unheralded simply due to the big names around them, here are the underrated players to watch for each club ahead of Finals Week 1. 

Billy Smith (Roosters)

Long the forgotten man of the Roosters' squad due to his horrible run with injuries, the 23-year-old has made every post a winner since returning from his third ACL injury in five years back in Round 10.

Smith has played 80 minutes in all but one of his 14 appearances this season and for the most part been able to stay healthy, with his ability to break open the line on full display during the club's current in the five-game winning streak. 

Averaging 121 run metres and over four tackle breaks per game, the Kensington Saints junior is starting to realise his potential in the top grade. 

Eliesa Katoa (Storm)

The former Warriors forward arrived at the Storm this year as a player with undoubted talent, but who was yet to show it consistently at NRL level.

In 18 games since then he's emerged as one of the best signings made by any club in 2023.

Katoa gets a brace vs the Dragons

Part of a dangerous back-row combination alongside Trent Loiero, the 22-year-old is averaging over 34 tackles and 104 run metres per game and has ensured he is an automatic selection each week for coach Craig Bellamy. 

While he is a long way off being a household name as part of a star-studded Storm side, you can be sure Katoa is attracting plenty of attention in video review sessions from opposing teams right now. 

Jack Williams (Sharks)

An interchange specialist this year who has found another level in more recent weeks following the loss of Dale Finucane to a season-ending injury, which meant the club's usual tempo man on the bench, Cameron McInnes, was required to start games. 

After a shoulder injury saw him play just six games last year, the 26-year-old has been a mainstay of the current campaign and played in 23 of the club's 24 games. 

Having played in qualifying final losses with Cronulla in 2019 and 2020, Williams will be keen to make some better post-season memories this time around as he approaches 100 NRL appearances.

Extended try: Jack Williams

Jordan Riki (Broncos)

You have little choice but to exist in the shadows somewhat when your forward pack contains players like Payne Haas, Patrick Carrigan and Thomas Flegler, but Riki has enjoyed a breakout season in 2023. 

After spending several weeks on the sideline after suffering a foot injury in June, Riki has been asked to take on more responsibility since returning in Round 24 with the Broncos playing on without some of their usual leaders. 

Averaging 29 tackles per game, in addition to success with the Broncos Riki will also have an eye on a Kiwi Test debut later this year, after being part of national team camps in the past. 

Leo Thompson (Knights)

Losing a prop of David Klemmer’s quality was always going to be a challenge for the Knights this season, but the growth of Thompson has meant they’ve hardly missed a beat in the middle of the park.

After starting the season with a week in camp with the Māori All Stars, his form has been such that he’s now a player who is an automatic selection in Newcastle’s run-on side each week.

The 23-year-old sets the tone through the early exchanges with his aggression and line speed and is a strong defender, with a 94 percent tackle efficiency rate through 23 appearances. He's type of player you want on your side when the first few hit-ups are flying in.

Timoko gets his second

Matthew Timoko (Raiders)

With the likes of Jordan Rapana and Seb Kris spending time at fullback this season, Timoko has become the Raiders’ best attacking threat on the outside, with a potent combination of power and pace which has caused real issues for opposing teams in 2023.

His 11 tries and 14 line breaks this season are both equal highs for the Green Machine and his x-factor is so important for Canberra. 

Timoko's work rate can’t be overlooked either, with seven games this season in which he has run for 200 metres or more, including a 250-metre haul against the Sharks in Round 27 which came from 21 carries.

Rocco Berry (Warriors)

An important part of what has been a high-performing right edge through the second half of this season, which has included helping to make sure Dallin Watene-Zelezniak gets the right ball at the right time in the lead up to many of his 21 tries. 

Berry is invariably also the player leading the kick chase down the right side for the Warriors – something which goes mostly unnoticed but has contributed greatly to Shaun Johnson enjoying success in that area of the game – while his physicality in defence has been effective closer to the line too.

Unlikely to be the man to bust the game open or come up with a game-changing play in attack, but someone who the team relies on to do lots of little things well in order for the wider game plan to be executed.

Sunia Turuva Try

Sunia Turuva (Panthers)

Plenty of teams have taken the approach of punting the ball down towards the left edge of Penrith this season as a means to limit the effectiveness of Origin winger Brian To’o on the other side, but the work of Sunia Turuva has meant they found little reprieve in that tactic.

Having entered 2023 with just three NRL appearances to his name, Turuva was thrust into a full-time gig when Taylan May suffered a season-ending knee injury in the pre-season and has been excellent.

The 21-year-old Fijian heads into the finals sitting sixth in the competition for metres gained at an average of 170 per game and has broken through 109 tackles in 23 games, with his work ethic proving so important for a Penrith side that rely on their outside backs getting through plenty of the tough stuff each week.

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