There were plenty of strong performers in Rd 1, plenty of quality games and some surprising results. For some teams, it was just the start they wanted but for others, they are already on the back foot. Individual performances were the highlight of the games and this article will cast an eye over the players that excelled in Rd 1.
So, without further adieu, here is Ricky’s Rd 1 Team of the Week:
1. Jack Wighton – Some were hesitant about his move to fullback whilst others were fans of it and anyone that might doubt it now, certainly is not about to do so any longer. In what was a simply sublime performance from Wighton at fullback, he was running well, causing problems for the Sharks attack, setting tries up and scoring them. There was simply no stopping him on Sunday, as he looked like a player on a mission and with a point to prove. With that sort of form, he could become the Raiders most important player across the season.
2. Eto Nabuli – Brought over with so much promise from Fiji, the going was tough for Nabuli to begin with and the opportunities in first-grade were hard to come by. Fast forward to 2015 and with a chance to join the Dragons, the Fijian winger took it and has since excelled. He had a stellar NRL Auckland Nines competition, a stellar World Club Series and made the most of it all. Given a chance to start in Rd 1 for the St George Illawarra Dragons, Nabuli took it with both hands and showed why he was picked with great touches, great leaping and a try to boot. It is very likely that he can hold down a spot long-term and the scary thing is, he will only get better.
3. Dane Gagai – He can be in the headlines for the wrong reasons at times but when Gagai lets his form do the talking, he is one of the most exciting centres to watch. He was on fire against the Warriors, somehow finding a way to cause problems for the Warriors defence on a regular basis. Causing problems galore for the defence, Gagai is shaping as an important cog on the fringes for the Knights and is proving to be a valuable asset each week. His nippy pace but deceptive strength, is the sort of thing that leaves opposition defences dazed and confused.
4. Will Chambers – Now a veteran centre of the NRL, Will Chambers seems to get better and better every year. Particularly in the absence of the now departed Ryan Hoffman, if one really wanted to do so, they could include Chambers as the new member of the big 4. A physical presence at centre in both attack and defence, Chambers has proven time and time again why he is a quality player across the board and why he is revered so highly by the Storm fans. He is a Craig Bellamy player to a tee, with his steely resolve, fantastic ability and solid awareness to get the best out of himself as a player and of his team-mates.
5. Pat Richards – Richards is no longer a spring chicken but you can bet he still has a spring in his step as he showed that class is permanent, with a masterclass on the wing. Scoring tries for fun and kicking goals with ease, Richards makes rugby league look effortless. Just for good measure, he showed that he can do everything, kicking the winning field goal for his side, in what was a narrow win. Just how long he can play on for might be unknown but in the mean time, the sort of form he is in and the experience he brings to a rather young Tigers side, he is the perfect mentor and player to help guide the younger generation in the right direction.
6. Chris Sandow – The enigmatic and livewire Eels halfback often has his fair share of critics at times but Sandow has kept them quiet for the time being with a tremendous display in the opening round. Whether it was his care-free style of running the ball up with speed, the creativeness he showed in attack to set up opportunities, his off-the-cuff style in keeping the opposition on their toes or his determination to get over the line and score, it was a very solid start to the season for Sandow. He can only get better and Eels fans will be hopeful that this is the sort of form they can come to expect from the little maestro.
7. Mitch Pearce – Another player who often has his fair share of critics across both club level and representative level but despite that, he also showed why he is highly rated by Roosters fans as an elite half. Pearce has continued on his solid form from 2014 and is fast becoming one of the elite halves in the competition. His skills were on display as he led the Roosters in attack and helped them to a dominant victory in Rd 1. His bread and butter is the little short ball at the line for the back-rowers, a skill he has excelled and one that works with great success. He will be a key for the Roosters if they are to mount a serious premiership challenge.
8. James Graham – Now tasked with greater responsibility at the Bulldogs since being given the captaincy, it was an honour that Graham has taken in his stride, even after 1 round. Bulldogs fans and NRL fans know he was always going to lead the forward pack regardless but it was an interesting new play that impressed quite a few fans and that was his deft ball skills. Whilst he has acted as a second receiver in the past, it was his deft pass in attack for fellow forward Tim Browne that had many fans pleased. That sort of skill added to his repertoire will make Graham an even more potent player and give him a one-up over most other elite props in the game.
9. James Segeyaro – There is no holding back from the little whiz so far, as he ran rings around the Bulldogs defence in the first half especially and with ease. His ability is well known and since his move to the Panthers last year, he has been nothing but a revelation, with many Panthers fans constantly impressed by the hooker’s efforts. Deceptively quick, Segeyaro’s primary asset lies in his ability to get a quick run out of dummy half to either go himself or set up a team-mate. He often catches opposition defenders off-guard and that often leads to the continued opportunities for the Panthers. If he can continue this rich vein of form, he will come very close to moving into the elite category of hookers.
10. Chris Heighington – One of the more under-rated players in the Sharks pack, the work from Heighington can often go unnoticed at times. His ability to hit the line hard, make something of it and produce lovely offloads on a regular basis, make him an unheralded cog in the Sharks well-oiled forward pack. Often coming off the bench, Heighington performs quite consistently no matter where he plays or how long he plays for and is becoming a crucial support player for the Sharks side. His efforts will be important if the Sharks are to achieve big things this season.
11. Ryan James – The recent turmoil at the Titans has seen James rewarded with an opportunity to start and hold down a spot and he took it with both hands open. A big, robust forward, James is a handful to deal with and his power and strength were on display when he carried three defenders over the line to score. Making it look easy, that dynamism and power on the fringes is what the Titans hope will be a regular thing, as they look to recover from the events that have plauged their club. He has started the season well and now Titans fans will be hoping that he can continue that form and become a leader of the Titans pack.
12. Brad Takairangi – Playing at centre for the Eels, Takairangi’s previous exploits as a back-rower are well known. With a lot of Eels fans unaware of his ability prior to his joining the club, they would have seen first-hand just what he can offer in the form of attack, passing and defence. In the Willie Tonga mold for his ability to beat his outside man with an in and away, it was the ability to do so that led to Takairangi tormenting the Manly defence with gaps opening up and pinpoint passing on display that led to tries. He will also become a crucial part of the Eels back-line, particularly if he continues this sort of form and ability.
13. Aidan Guerra – Taking over a role filled by one of the most gifted back-rowers the NRL has ever seen is never easy but Guerra was the man selected for the role and performed well. A toiler and a player that works hard and never complains, Guerra went about his business on the field with aplomb and worked tirelessly in attack and defence and is the perfect player to utilise in the role. It was a good start for Guerra in his newly defined role as starter, as he scored a try and was involved in a lot of the play going forward for his side.
14. James Maloney – Another player that has been criticised at times and one who is under pressure somewhat. Off-contract at season’s end, Maloney has a lot to prove and his ability is not doubted but the effect he can have throughout games remains to be seen. If he can produce the form that saw him make an Origin debut, the Roosters may opt to keep him but with many clubs in the market for quality halves and the uncertainty over his Roosters future, Maloney may be headed elsewhere. Despite that, he made a solid start to his 2015 season and will yet again form a valuable partnership with halves partner Mitchell Pearce.
15. Ryan Hoffman – 2014 was not his best year and Storm fans will probably tell you that themselves, but even after 1 round with his new side – the New Zealand Warriors – Hoffman seems rejuvenated. Running with purpose and vigour, his experience shone through despite the first-up loss. It will be important, particularly with a lot of younger forwards among the team dynamics and Warriors fans will hope that Hoffman can be dynamic on the fringes and continue to play well. He, along with fellow veteran Simon Mannering, form a sound part of the Warriors back-row.
16. Joey Leilua – Any Knights fan would tell you that even at the best of times, Leilua can be an erratic player but despite that, he is a quality player. That was on show in the Knights win, as his big, solid frame, caused some problems for the Warriors defence in attack especially. A hard player to bring down and handle, Leilua has continued to develop as a player and has become a more refined player and more composed. Although there are still aspects of his game he can improve in, his ability alone is enough to propel him into an elite, consistent centre.
17. James Roberts – A young player that has had his fair share of issues in the past, his ability on the field is never in question. A young, powerful centre with his whole career ahead of him, the skills he has and the ability he shows are why he is so highly rated by fans of many sides and why they believe he can be anything he wants to be in the NRL. He was one of the shining stars for the Titans side in their narrow loss and his form and combinations with team-mates will be important as the games wear on and for Roberts to continue to develop as a promising player.
Player of the Week: Jack Wighton.