Cowboys appoint new CEO

After a lengthy search to find a new CEO, the North Queensland Cowboys have their man, with Greg Tonner appointed as the club’s new CEO.

Seeking someone with the right skills and experience was important for the club and Chairman Laurence Lancini believes that Tonner was the guy for the role.

“Chairman Laurence Lancini confirmed the former North Queensland local, who has extensive experience in sales and commercial roles nationally and internationally, would be a wonderful asset to the club,” said Lancini.

“We conducted an extensive search to find the right person and considered some truly outstanding candidates. We believe Greg, with his professional background and family connection to North Queensland, is the right person for the job.”

“We are delighted he is coming aboard.”

Townsville is not a foreign area for the new CEO, as Tonner will take over the CEO role mid-season once his current employment commitments are complete and he is excited at the new role ahead of him.

“It’s a privilege to work for the Cowboys. I’m incredibly enthusiastic about strengthening ties to this fantastic club right across the north, and helping the club get to the next level,” said Tonner.

Boom Cowboys back-rower ends speculation and re-signs

Jason Taumalolo

It finally happened and after much speculation that had him linked to other clubs, Jason Taumalolo has re-signed with the North Queensland Cowboys until the end of the 2017 season.

With many teams interested in signing the hulking back-rower after a solid finish to the 2014 season and a blistering Auckland Nines tournament, Taumalolo showed that some element of loyalty does still exist in the game.

The club are ecstatic that the in-form back-rower has opted to re-sign with the club.

“We know Jason has an incredibly bright future in the game and we’re delighted that future will be with the Cowboys,” said Cowboys General Manager of Football, Peter Parr.

With his future settled, Taumalolo is keen to get down to business, play well and enjoy the seasons ahead with his team-mates.

“I couldn’t be happier knowing that my future is secured with the club, and look forward to a big season with the boys,” Taumalolo said.

Knowing just how good he can be, the club know he still has a lot of upside as he becomes an elite player in the game.

“Jason enjoys being part of our tight-knit club and we believe his presence in our lineup will help us achieve some big things,” Parr said.

“Jason is still only a young man and has plenty of development left in his game.”

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 11: Penrith Panthers

Recent years have seen a resurgence for the Penrith Panthers, as they put together a side capable of challenging the top sides. Keen to invest in their youth as well as maintaining the experience within their roster, the Panthers are building towards potential success under Ivan Cleary. Can they go all the way or are they still one step short of the elite sides?

One of the biggest talking points out of Penrith and one that will play a big impact for the Supercoach and Fantasy players out there is whether or not the Panthers will go with one hooker or two.
Fingers and toes are crossed as fans wait with bated breath, hoping and praying that James Segeyaro is the sole hooker named. His form from last year would suggest he is more than capable of playing the entire 80 minutes and excelling but the signing of Apisai Koroisau from Souths has cast some doubt over that. Koroisau himself joined some decent minutes and form in 2014 and whilst it may not be enough to usurp Segeyaro entirely, there is a strong possibility that he will indeed come off the bench.

The final make-up of their side will also be interesting, particularly in the forward pack and the back-line. With several players under some injury clouds and others hoping they can earn a first-grade spot, the competition for a start will be fiercely competitive.
With the likes of Sika Manu, Bryce Cartwright, Tyrone Peachey and co. all vying for a spot, deciding just who will start, who will play off the bench and who misses out, will not be an easy decision for coach Ivan Cleary.
Manu is the biggest of the trio but over the last couple of seasons, has not quite been the destructive fringe runner he is capable of and it may be that he misses out.
With the emergence of both Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone Peachey, two young prospects seen as the back-row future of the club, the club is in good stead in that department.

Both are not the biggest players but they have heart and ticker and use their footy smarts and awareness to duck, weave and dodge defenders, in order to create more space or offload the ball. Cartwright in particular is a player destined for big things in the NRL. Having excelled in both the Holden Cup and the NSW Cup – and making it look all too easy for that matter – he is a player that has a big future ahead of him. With huge wraps on him from the Penrith coaching staff, the Penrith fans and even rival fans, the fact that he slotted straight into first-grade with apparent ease makes it easy to see why he is touted as one of the next promising Penrith juniors and potential future star.

The Panthers back-line may also contain some surprise inclusions and potential future stars, especially with the injury to representative winger, Josh Mansour. Set to miss at least the first few weeks of the season, it opens up a spot for a talented youngster to earn a spot, make a claim and potentially hold down a spot. It is the young guns like Waqa Blake and George Jennings working hard, playing hard and pushing hard for that start in the early rounds and they are the sort of players that will be ready for the opportunity, should it arise. The early contender for that spot seems to be Waqa Blake, who in recent years, has made quite an impression among Penrith fans and opposition teams in the Holden Cup and NSW Cup.

Best buy: The Panthers were not too busy in recruitment, so their best buy options are limited but there is one name that stands out and that is Apisai Koroisau. Joining the club from Souths in the off-season, he was signed to add depth to the hooker role after the retirement of Kevin Kingston. With speculation galore as to whether or not he will snag a bench spot, the belief of some is that he will start the year in the NSW Cup and play first-grade should James Segeyaro not be able to. Koroisau showed his acceleration and vision out of dummy half for Souths but after playing second fiddle to Issac Luke for some years, the enigmatic, live-wire player felt it was best to make a move elsewhere and thus found a new home at Penrith.

Most Promising Talent: Touted as one of the club’s next best props and on the cusp of a potential first-grade berth, Regan Campbell-Gillard is a prop destined for big things in NRL. With a slew of representative accolades to his name, the young, hulking prop has been one of the club’s best in both the NSW Cup and Holden Cup over the years. Basically ready to take that next step, RGC is a young player that has a bright future and a player that has a high work-rate, commits and plays hard and loves rugby league. Highly rated by both Panthers fans, some rival fans and the Penrith coaching staff, it is a matter of time before Campbell-Gillard is afforded more regular opportunities in first-grade. That chance may come sooner rather than later, given some of the forward depth at the Panthers is not as strong.

2015 Gains: Rodney Coates (2015), Adrian Davis (2015), Apisai Koroisau (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Ben Murdoch-Masila (Mid Season: Wests Tigers), Tupou Sopoaga (Cronulla Sharks)

Our predicted line-up:

1. Matt Moylan
2. Josh Mansour/Waqa Blake (Blake to play only if Mansour is injured)
3. Dean Whare
4. Jamal Idris
5. David Simmons
6. Jamie Soward
7. Peter Wallace (C)
8. Brent Kite
9. James Segeyaro
10. Sam McKendry
11. Bryce Cartwright
12. Tyrone Peachey
13. Elijah Taylor

14. Sika Manu
15. Nigel Plum
16. Lewis Brown
17. Jeremy Latimore

Coach: Ivan Cleary

Talented Panthers back-rower and centre both re-sign until 2017

Tyrone Peachey

Retaining key, upcoming players is a boost for any club and the Penrith Panthers have acted swiftly, re-signing back-rower Tyrone Peachey and utility back, Waqa Blake until 2017.

It was at the end of the 2013 season when Peachey first joined the Panthers from the Cronulla Sharks and although injury cruelled his finish to the 2014 season, he is excited to stay on board at the club.

I’m really grateful to have the chance to stay on with Penrith for another two years,” said Peachey.

“I have loved my time here so far and I’ve made some really great mates, and the support from members and fans has been amazing. I think I’m playing my best footy at the moment, and Ivan is giving me plenty of opportunity to prove myself, which makes me want to work even harder”.

For Blake, it was an easy decision. With the time and effort the club have put in him and his development over the years, he wanted to repay their form their hard work.

“It is a real privilege to re-sign with Panthers for another year. Ivan (Cleary) and Gus (Gould) are such great mentors and I have learned so much during pre-season training,” said Waqa.

“My goal is to try and make first grade this year, and I’m really keen to see how far I can take my career with Penrith.

“I just want to thank the club for this opportunity, and our members and fans for all of their support.”

Knowing how talented the duo are, Penrith District Rugby League CEO Justin Pascoe says the club is excited to retain the promising players.

“Tyrone is an enjoying an exciting period in his career with his recent selection and performance in the Indigenous All Stars, and we are looking forward to watching him develop further as a player, and as a young man,” said Pascoe.

“And Waqa is a remarkable young man who has the NRL world at his feet. Everyone here at the club is keen to see him reach his full potential, and we will strive to ensure he has all the tools and resources he needs to grow.”

The Panthers have always been about junior retention and re-signing this duo was always a priority for the club.

“To have both Tyrone Peachey and Waqa Blake agree to extend their contracts with our club is a huge vote of confidence in the culture, coaching and development programs our Head Coach Ivan Cleary and his team have created here at Panthers,” said Penrith Panthers Executive General Manager, Phil Gould.

“And Tyrone Peachey excites me. Eighteen months ago I predicted representative football was definitely in this young man’s future and everything I’ve seen from him since he arrived at Panthers has convinced me this will become a reality. Tyrone is a quality person and an absolute delight to have as part of our club”.”

Having seen Blake come through the ranks, Gould knows it is only a matter of time before he plays first-grade.

“We feel so fortunate to have young Waqa as part of our club for the next three seasons. Waqa is yet another graduate from our Premiership winning NYC squad from 2013. I have no doubt this quality young man has a long and distinguished NRL career in front of him,” said Gould.

Waqa Blake

Former Australian fast bowler joins NSWRL as Chief Operating Officer

Stuart Clark

Cricket fans out there will know who he is but some of the rugby league faithful may not, as former Australian fast bowler Stuart Clark joins the New South Wales Rugby League as their new Chief Operating Officer.

In what is a newly created position, the move is the first step towards Clark’s goal of running a sporting organisation.

Clark has had time away from the sporting arena for the last two years and is set to start his new role on March 9, as re-enters the sporting landscape following time at a law firm.

The former Australian bowler who has degrees in Commerce and Law was chomping at the bit to return to the sporting arena and the passionate Sharks fans says he has missed it.

“The reality is I’m passionate about sport,” Clark said.

“I’ve missed it. I’ve learnt everything from the ground up in a law firm and you’ve seen good and bad things. The biggest thing I’ve learnt is that everything takes time and it’s a process.”

The role will see Clark oversee the growth of the game from a NSWRL perspective and Clark knows just how important that is.

“It’s about making the game bigger,” Clark said.

“Getting to the community and find out what the community are crying out for. You read a lot of bad press but there’s a lot of good stuff happening in rugby league.

“I’ll have a role in every area of the business.”

The NSWRL are equally excited to have Clark on board, with current Chief Executive Officer David Trodden giving him a glowing endorsement ahead of the move.

“We are really excited to have a person of his quality joining the New South Wales Rugby League,” Trodden said.

“I think it’s a real vote of confidence in our organisation that someone of Stuart’s standing wants to be a part of it and is keen to help us take the NSWRL to new heights.”

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 10: Parramatta Eels

There would be one very simple goal for the Parramatta Eels in 2015. Make the finals. It would be an understatement to say that the last few years have been tough for the club, given that it has been some time since they have made the finals. Put it down to what you want but there is more than one underlying reason behind it all and in 2015, that is the potential year to buck the trend.

In the Eels favour, they have one of the best and most talented up-and-coming coaches in the NRL right now. Brad Arthur is that man and from the word go in 2014, despite some indifferent results, you immediately saw the change in the team and how well they respond to Arthur. The Eels coach is a disciplinarian of sorts like a Bellamy but at the same time, he is charismatic and looks after his players both on and off the field. He is the sort of coach that players look up to and enjoy playing under because of his no-nonsense approach. Arthur will call it like he sees it and if there is something he sees that he knows is not right, he will pick up on it and rectify it immediately. Essentially, he embodies the true meaning of a man-manager and that is what players want. Someone that can relate to them professionally and personally.

In terms of the playing roster, there is one situation that is still on the lips of many fans, especially rival ones to the Eels. That is, as you can guess, Jarryd Hayne. The Eels superstar and focal point went in search of an opportunity in the NFL to fulfill a lifelong dream – and good on him, we say – and it has many opposition fans presuming that the Eels are set to languish as cellar dwellers and potential wooden spooners once more.
Such a time is when a coach like Brad Arthur steps in. He has worked feverishly and tirelessly to put together a balanced roster that has a chance to succeed in the NRL. Through new recruits, current players and a young brigade at his disposal, Arthur is keen to make sure that the club become galvanised and that they play together as a strong, cohesive unit, capable of winning a multitude of games.

Hayne’s departure has caused a debate of a different kind this off-season. Just who will play the fullback role?Now, we know that it will be Will Hopoate to play in the position as confirmed by Brad Arthur himself but for arguments sake, let us assess the options at their disposal.
Hopoate is no stranger to the fullback jersey. During his first NRL stint at the Manly Sea Eagles, he played some fullback and excelled there. For Hopoate, whilst he has to re-learn the position given his time away from the game and given his stint in the centres last year, it is actually his preferred position. A natural athlete in the game of rugby league, Hopoate will have the support of fans and team-mates as he readjusts to life at fullback.

In addition to Hopoate, the Eels have two recruits that are capable of playing fullback in former Canberra speedster Reece Robinson and former Dragons utility Adam Quinlan. Robinson is a noted speedster and offers dynamism and nippiness from the back, whereas Quinlan is more of a natural ball-player and can chime into sweeping attacking movements. Both obviously will not play fullback from the get-go but should Hopoate play Origin, the chance for one of them to pounce on the fullback spot will be in full-swing.

Finally, perhaps the biggest talking point other than Hayne’s departure has been the arrival of Anthony Watmough. The Eels forward pack has been calling out for a genuine leader, a veteran and a leader of men. Watmough, for some years now, has been regarded as one of the game’s elite and one of the best modern back-rowers in the game. With a largely young core back-row, signing Watmough and having him play alongside the younger players will be invaluable to them as players and as people. Even at his age, he is still a crucial player in any team and his work-rate, energy and punch, will be imperative for the Eels if their forward pack is to successfully lay the foundations for each game, every week.

Best buy: It would be easy to select Watmough with this one but this section is going in a different direction. Brad Arthur perhaps had a plan in the back of his mind or even subconsciously, that Hopoate was the man to replace Hayne at fullback. So, with a plan B in mind, the club went out and bought Brad Takairangi. The Cook Islands representative came off a very handy year at the Titans in 2014, where he played mostly centre and offloaded well, created well and made the most of the opportunities. In light of Hopoate’s move to the back, the Eels lacked a strike centre and in Takairangi, they now have one. His work-rate is also very high and in full flight and ball in hand, he has a hard player to stop and bring down one-on-one. An experienced player, he will be the one that the Eels back look to for inspiration and experience.

Most Promising Talent He has been around the traps somewhat in his junior career to date, but he is highly regarded among the Eels faithful and within the organisation. Halaufau Lavaka finished last year as the top scorer in the Holden Cup, a quality feat by the young winger. Big, mobile and robust, Lavaka scores tries for fun and score them with nifty footwork, brute strength or in the air, making him a tough player to handle for opposition defences. Rewarded with some recent opportunities in both the Auckland Nines and trial games, whilst he is still learning the game and refining his overall style of play, he is a talented player and one that is on the cusp of first-grade.

Our predicted line-up:

1. Will Hopoate
2. Semi Radradra
3. Brad Takairangi
4. Beau Champion
5. Reece Robinson
6. Corey Norman
7. Chris Sandow
8. Tim Mannah (C)
9. Nathan Peats
10. Junior Paulo
11. Manu Ma’u
12. Tepai Moeroa
13. Anthony Watmough

14. David Gower
15. Darcy Lussick
16. Danny Wicks
17. Joseph Paulo

Sunshine Coast Falcons secure new major sponsor

Continuing to develop and mature as a rugby league club in the Intrust Super Cup, the Sunshine Coast Falcons have received a huge boost, with Vantage Homes signing on as the club’s major sponsor for the 2015 season.

The partnership with the local business will see the club renamed the Vantage Homes Sunshine Coast Falcons and CEO Chris Flannery is excited to begin the association with their new major sponsor.

“Vantage Homes have built an enviable reputation as a leading builder throughout South East Queensland, in fact the HIA rates them as the 13th largest building firm in Queensland so it’s great to have such a successful local company supporting us in 2015,” said Flannery.

“We’ve been ultra impressed with Vantage Homes’ directors Shane O’Brien and Glenn Carmichael and it’s clear that they are backing the direction we are taking with our commitment to climb to the top of the Intrust Super Cup.”

Equally excited are Vantage Homes themselves, who look forward to the prospect of aligning themselves with the Falcons and have looked at the possibility of extending the partnership.

“Having an alliance with an NRL club is really powerful and we saw the benefit of this first hand when the former Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles were aligned to Manly. We are confident that the Vantage Homes Sunshine Coast Falcons can emulate the same success over the next few years,” said Vantage Homes General Manager, Chris Lewis.

“There’s exciting times ahead and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to get on board and become the major sponsor before someone else took it up. This is initially a one year commitment on our behalf but we have plans to continue the relationship should things go as planned.”

For Vantage Homes, they want to take it further. They want to appeal to the fans, players, support staff and their own clients, in a bid to increase the portfolio and brand of the Falcons.

“We will be taking it to another level by calling on our suppliers and contractors to take up season memberships so they can come and enjoy the game, meet some of the other sponsors and help to create a cauldron like atmosphere to support the Vantage Homes Falcons at Sunshine Coast Stadium,” he said.

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 9: North Queensland Cowboys

More than halfway through as we go over the North Queensland Cowboys in this preview. Will it be another case of close but no cigar for the Cowboys, or is 2015 the year that they can finally capture their elusive premiership? Once again, Johnathan Thurston is the key but with some handy additions to their squad, he may not have to go it alone.

Although on the surface, it may appear in stone, one position subject to a lot of debate among Cowboys fans and the NRL, is the fullback role. It was all but set to be given to Lachlan Coote before the 2014 season started but after tragically injuring his ACL during the inaugural Auckland Nines, it allowed Michael Morgan to move to the back where he excelled. So much so, that it gave the Cowboys another genuine ball-player to set up and create tries and opportunities, much like Matt Bowen used to do at the club.
Fast forward to 2015 and with Coote back seemingly fitter and healthier, the early reports suggest that it is he who will get the fullback role he was initially going to, shifting Michael Morgan back into the halves alongside Thurston.

In addition to that, on the subject of halves, the Cowboys are blessed with a plethora of first-grade halves that can cover multiple positions. If need be, the likes of Robert Lui and Ray Thompson can and will fill in should players be missing due to injury, suspension or Origin. With Morgan moving back to the halves, it essentially prevents one of Thompson or Lui from playing, or even both. Both have talent within their own rights but have come under fire from Cowboys fans, with the majority seeming to agree with the potential move of Morgan back into the halves. That said, the duo can also play hooker, which then presents a whole new dilemma for coach Paul Green.

To say that the hooker position at the North Queensland Cowboys is congested, would be an understatement. With Thompson and Lui, in addition to Rory Kostjaysn and Jake Granville, it will prove to be one giant headache for Green heading into the 2015 season.
Does he play just the one hooker or does he go with one off the bench? And if he does play one off the bench, does he go for the genuine interchange hooker in Granville or the player that can cover the halves if need be in Robert Lui? Based purely on his utility value, you would imagine that Kostjaysn is the one to get the nod – given he can play hooker, five-eighth, back-row and lock – but in the NRL, anything is possible. If you were coach, who would you name at hooker?

A big question with the Cowboys is whether they can go all the way and capture an elusive maiden premiership. An argument could be made to suggest that they have been unlucky in crucial games over the last few years and if they won, who knows what might have happened. Though that is in the past and if the Cowboys are to succeed, they have to take control of their own destiny, move on from the controversy and play to the calibre of footy we know they are capable of. With Thurston obviously the star, he will need the players around him to step up and take some of the pressure off him and as always, the Cowboys have players like that at their disposal.

With creativity at fullback and halfback in Coote and Morgan, speed in the backs with Justin O’Neill and Antonio Winterstein, power and experience in the forward pack with Matt Scott and James Tamou, the Cownoys are set for a charge towards a successful season. Of course, a lot depends on whether they can get over some early season jitters of past years, often leaving them with hard work in order to make the finals. If they can consolidate the wins early with the players at their disposal and have themselves in a good position come the start of the Origin period, they can go onto bigger and better things, given the depth they have.

Best Buy: All clubs lose forward depth but very rarely do you get to find a ready-made, experienced replacement like Ben Hannant. Nicknamed the Polar Bear, the bullocking prop has always been known for running hard, hitting hard and making an impact on the field. With several props in particular departing the club, the signing of Hannant gives the Cowboys pack further starch both from the bench and in general. With Scott and Tamou working in tandem as a starting duo, Hannant can then continue to lay the platform with hard running of his own, as the Cowboys look to physically dominate teams with the runs through the middle of the ruck. He adds further punch to an already impressive looking forward pack at the Cowboys.

Most Promising Talent: When you watch any young player during their early career, you get an inkling as to whether they are good enough to make it or not. Watching Viliame Kikau, you just know he has the tools to become a quality first-grade prop. Hulking but lanky, Kikau has enjoyed a couple of stellar seasons with the Cowboys Holden Cup side and has proved to be tough to handle for most defences. A powerhouse of a player and runner, close to the line, there is perhaps no young prop that is harder to stop than Kikau. Although the overall forward depth at the Cowboys is somewhat good, Kikau needs to continue to develop and take that sort of form into the QLD Cup. Should he do so and should he make the impact everyone knows he can, it is only a matter of time before he makes a first-grade debut.

2015 Gains: Jake Granville (Brisbane Broncos), Ben Hannant (Brisbane Broncos), Kyle McConnell (2016), Tautau Moga (Mid Season: Sydney Roosters), Justin O’Neill (Melbourne Storm), Kelepi Tanginoa (Parramatta Eels)

Our predicted line-up:

1. Lachlan Coote
2. Antonio Winterstein
3. Justin O’Neill
4. Kane Linnett
5. Kyle Feldt
6. Johnathan Thurston (C)
7. Michael Morgan
8. Matt Scott (C)
9. Rory Kostjaysn
10. James Tamou
11. Gavin Cooper
12. Jason Taumalolo
13. Glenn Hall

14. Jake Granville
15. Scott Bolton
16. Ben Hannant
17. Ethan Lowe

Dragons prop commits international future to Wales

Tyson Frizell

When you think of St George Illawarra prop Tyson Frizell, you may not picture him as being eligible or able to represent the Welsh national rugby league side. That, however, is where you would be wrong.

Frizell has played for the Welsh side in the past and in a boost for the budding rugby league nation, the Dragons forward has committed to playing for the Welsh in their end of season international matches later this year.

It was back in 2011 when Frizell made his official Welsh debut and since then, he donned the red jersey a total of six times.

There was no hiding Frizell’s excitement, with the Dragons forward keen to put on the Welsh jersey once more and represent his country.

“I’m looking forward to coming back into the Wales camp following the NRL season and I’m determined to help Wales reach the 2017 World Cup,” said Frizell.

“I’ve spoken to Bob and John as well as some of the Wales players and management from 2014 and they’ve told me about the fantastic team spirit that existed during last year’s camp.

It certainly looks like that Wales Rugby League are going places and I can’t wait to add to my caps total.”

The Welsh themselves are excited at Frizell’s commitment with a board member saying: “Both John and I are delighted with Tyson’s commitment to help Wales reach the Rugby League World Cup 2017. Tyson was very enthusiastic for the future of Welsh Rugby League and he can’t wait to get going in the autumn.”

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 8: Newcastle Knights

Like other teams, there have been some reshuffles across the board at the Newcastle Knights. There’s new off-field staff in place, a back to the future type move with their new/old coach and a changing of the guard of sorts in terms of the new players. Despite that, the Knights have the core of a very good, young side and if they play to their potential, a handy season is not beyond them.

From the get-go, the thing you notice with the Knights side for 2015 is the amount of experience they have lost. The likes of Boyd, Mason, Hilder and Tahu have all left, leaving the side with a handful of experience but perhaps not as much as a club would like. With the departure of the old guard, though, comes the initiation of the newer, younger brigade, hungry to make an impact, earn a spot and get stuck into the season. This newer brigade comes in the form of talented players like the Mata’utia brothers (Chanel, Sione and Pat) and from exciting back-row prospect, Joseph Tapine. All have the makings of fine players and all will be crucial for the Knights over the course of the season.

Another big talking point out Newcastle way is just who will get the nod at hooker. Adam Clydsdale is obviously the favourite to start in the role and his talents have been on show across all three grades for the last couple of seasons but he will be under some pressure at some point in the season. Whether coach Rick Stone opts to go for Danny Levi or Tyler Randell on the bench as a hooker remains to be seen, but it will have Clydsdale looking over his shoulder and hoping that form wise, he can retain his spot. Levi in particular is a player with a big future and one that the Knights have been grooming for some time. Already captain of the NYC side, is playing abilities and leadership skills are why he is held in such high regard and if you have not seen him play, than you are in for a treat.

The final make-up of the Knights side will also be an interesting one, especially the back-line. The halves are set in stone as is the fullback role but many fans have differing views over who should start on the wings and in the centres. The emergence of Sione Mata’utia last year makes the final make-up of the side more interesting, as the dynamics of the back-line are still to be determined. Mata’utia has the talent and Knights fans have known that for quite some time but there is a school of thought among some fans that experience is the way to go, meaning Mata’utia may have to start the year in the NSW Cup. Additionally, the blistering early trial form of Jake Mamo has the speedster on the cusp of a prolonged stint in first-grade. Impressing at the Auckland Nines and in trial games, Mamo is a player of the future and will heap the pressure onto those who are selected come Rd 1.

The Knights are a team that enjoy building towards the future and they have the players at their disposal within their ranks to make that happen, as the club transitions towards a solid, young core. For some, a player like Kurt Gidley is nearing the end of his career – some believe he should have retired by now – and that it is simply a matter of time before he does hang up the boots, leaving the fullback position wide open for the young guns to battle it out. Whilst Gidley may not be a player that is revered by every fan, his experience will prove vital to the Knigths chances and if he can stay injury-free, his ability from the back mixed in with the ball skills, will be a cruical asset for the club.

Essentially, the Knights are a team that always work hard, play hard and never give up. Whilst they may not possess the superstars of other teams, they do have quality in their team across the park and emerging players that are keen to make their mark on the game. The likes of Leilua and Gagai, both budding, talented centres, have game-breaking ability and have shown that in the past and with creative halves in Mullen and Roberts, they can control a game and take it away from the opposition. The Knights will certainly be no pushovers in 2015 and with a good coach in Rick Stone at the helm whom the players respect, the club will make the most of opportunities and work hard to achieve as many positive results as possible.

Best Buy: Every side needs one genuine utility player and sometimes, that can be hard to come by. Finding the right one is also no easy task and the Knights have enjoyed their fair share of utility players in the past but for 2015, they have probably signed their best one yet. Former Warrior, Carlos Tuimavave. Tuimavave is a gifted player and enjoyed a decent stint with the Warriors playing in a number of positions both in first-grade and in the other two grades. His ball-playing ability is second-to-none and is game awareness and composure to evaluate the best options for the team, especially in attack, are an asset that can help the Knights side. Although he may not start for the Knights straight away, knowing that the club has a genuine ball-player like Tuimavave, their halves depth looks a bit stronger.

Most Promising Talent: In rugby league, you just know when a young player is going to be a genuine superstar and for the Knights organisation and their fans, they can see that ability in young hooker, Danny Levi. Excelling as NYC captain for the last couple of seasons, Levi has lead from the front in a talented Knights outfit and has been incredibly consistent with both his form and his leadership. So much so, that the club are starting to take notice and including Levi in numerous trial squads where he also performed well. Whilst his main competition for a potential bench spot will come in Tyler Randell, leaving out naturally gifted players like Levi is always tough for a coach. One thing is for certain, though, if not at some point this year, Levi will play first-grade and potentially become the Knights number 1 hooker in a few years time, such is his ability.

Jack Cogger (2016), Brock Lamb (2017), Sam Mataora (Mid Season: Canberra Raiders), Tariq Sims (North Queensland Cowboys), Jack Stockwell (St George Illawarra Dragons), James Taylor (Mid Season: New Zealand Warriors), Carlos Tuimavave (New Zealand Warriors)

Our predicted line-up:

1. Kurt Gidley
2. Sione Mata’utia
3. Joey Leilua
4. Dane Gagai
5. Akuila Uate
6. Jarrod Mullen
7. Tyrone Roberts
8. Kade Snowden
9. Adam Clydsdale
10. Korbin Sims
11. Tariq Sims
12. Beau Scott
13. Jeremy Smith

14. Danny Levi
15. Robbie Rochow
16. Jack Stockwell
17. Joseph Tapine