Some players take time to build their form throughout a season or several for that matter, whereas others enter the first-grade frame and immediately excel. We thought we would cast our eye over one particular player from each team, that is destined for a break-out year in the NRL if selected by their coaches and in their teams.
Some will have already been more established than others in terms of games played, but have perhaps not kicked on as many fans and clubs would have wanted. Nevertheless, those players have the potential to succeed and 2016 could be that year for them with a full pre-season under their belts and more experience in their arsenal.
So, here we go. Our break-out stars of the 2016 season for each team:
Brisbane Broncos: Joe Ofahengaue.
A big bopper and a promising talent, Ofahengaue’s time in first-grade so far has been a bit stop-start. One of the Broncos elite performers in the Holden Cup a couple of years ago, the hulking forward has a chance to cement a spot and kick-on in first-grade. Rated by Brisbane fans across the board and by coach Wayne Bennett, Ofahengaue is learning the game and the ropes under some elite forwards at the Broncos in Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker and Adam Blair. Their knowledge and experience of the game will help Ofahengaue to develop his own game further and become an even better player, with the young forward eventually taking over their mantle as a leader of the pack.
Versatile and nifty, Bulldogs fans have long been aware of the talents that Moses Mbye possesses but 2016 is a big test for the young half. With the departure of Trent Hodkinson, it would seem that the weight of the world and the Bulldogs finals chances in 2016, hinge on the young half and where he can take his game and form. As talented as they come, Mbye has always been destined for first-grade and with the chance to take the reins of the side and make it his own, that may well be something he relishes and strives in. He will have support, though, with the adept Josh Reynolds by his side in the halves, as Mbye looks to become the man to lead the Bulldogs side – likely as halfback – around the paddock and towards both wins and potential premiership success.
Canberra Raiders: Paul Vaughan
Not one to shy away from the big hits or the hard runs, Paul Vaughan has some shoes to fill this year with the Raiders forward pack. Form wise, he has gotten better each year and has impressed many Raiders fans with this effort, commitment and work-ethic. But 2016 will mark a challenge of a different kind for Vaughan, as it becomes increasingly likely that he will start more often and play more minutes, in light of a relative lack of forward depth at the club. Most fans would expect Vaughan to relish that sort of responsibility given the way he has played in the past and we would not put it past him to do the same. Vaughan is a passionate player, though, and gets through the required work with much ease and grace. So a challenge of this kind, a new kind, is unlikely to phase him as he again excels for the Raiders.
Cronulla Sharks: Jesse Sene-Lefao
New to the Sharks in 2016, Sene-Lefao joins the club on the back of some good form with Manly where opportunity was rife due to injuries. And with the Sharks having some forwards of their own move on and with others nearing the end of their careers, the opportunity is rife for Sene-Lefao to make an impact. Big and powerful, his impact off the bench will be a welcome boost for the Sharks as they look to follow on from a solid overall year in 2015. Whilst the veteran forwards are the ones that will receive the plaudits, Sene-Lefao & others like him will help round out the solid Sharks pack.
Gold Coast Titans: Nene Macdonald
He joined mid-season and enjoyed some success but with some uncertainty over the centres at the Gold Coast Titans, Macdonald has a chance to cement a spot of his own for the season in its entirety. A versatile and powerful utility back, Macdonald proved that he can hold his own in the NRL and with a chance available to further showcase his abilities, he might be able to become a crucial part of the Titans back-line and potentially, if good enough, fill the void left by the departed James Roberts. Combinations will also be the key, with Macdonald able to again work alongside the likes of David Mead and Will Zillman.
Manly Sea Eagles Tim Moltzen
Once upon a time, the force was strong with Tim Moltzen. He was a solid player, performing well and could have gone onto bigger and better things but injuries galore struck. It cruelled his career and his progression but he now has a new chance and a new lease on life to potentially get it all back on track at Manly. A versatile player by nature, there is a strong chance that Moltzen could get a crack in Manly’s first-grade side and with a lot to prove and a keenness to illustrate that his previous form has not deserted him. If he gets that sort of form back, he could be the perfect foil alongside current boom half, Daly Cherry-Evans, once he is selected.
Melbourne Storm: Felise Kaufusi
A surprise packet last year in particular, Felise Kaufusi was given more opportunity than many were perhaps expecting at the Storm in 2015. He did not disappoint, though, as he ran hard, toiled and made the most of the chances that came his way. With the Storm losing some forward depth and not really replacing it, a further opportunity arises for Kaufusi’s minutes to increase as a result and for him to continue his rise to become a mainstay in the Storm’s 17.
Newcastle Knights: Jake Mamo
One of the most exciting young prospects the Knights have had come through their ranks in years, Mamo has talent galore and is keen to showcase that to the NRL world. Excelling in recent NRL Auckland Nines competitions and impressing further when given first-grade opportunities, there is no better chance for him to put his name on the NRL map than in 2016. With the fullback spot vacant and Mamo the front-runner to get it, it gives him a chance to play in his favoured position and a chance to prove his worth as a young player. Highly rated by many, his enthusiasm and x-factor could be the kick-start the Knights back-line needs in 2016.
North Queensland Cowboys: Jason Taumalolo
One of the most destructive ball-runners in the entire NRL competition, 2016 is a year where Taumalolo can take his game to even greater heights. A crucial piece of the puzzle that saw the Cowboys win their maiden NRL premiership in 2015, Taumalolo can go one step further and cement himself as an elite forward in the entire competition. To do that, he must achieve consistency in his game and make his presence known week in and week out. He can bulldoze opponents one week but then be quite lax the next week. Consistency is no easy feat for a lot of players but with Taumalolo’s destructive attacking nature and sheer size, if he can outmuscle and overpower his opponents every week, there may be no stopping him. At all.
Parramatta Eels: Tepai Moeroa
Yet another promising player to come through the Eels ranks, Moeroa burst onto the scene and made an impact that had all Eels fans licking their lips as they glimpsed what appeared to be a Hindmarsh-like clone. Strong in defence, a tremendous hole-runner and solid in attack, he made his presence known early, much like others. 2015 hit, though, and there were some struggles. A chronic shoulder injury that he bravely tried to battle on with affected his game and his performance, and as a result, he struggled throughout the year. He still made impact in his own way, but not as strong as he had been in the past. In 2016, though, playing under the likes of Anthony Watmough and Beau Scott, Moeroa can learn, develop and grow his game further, to become a top back-rower and eventually the leader of the back-row in years to come.
Penrith Panthers: James Segeyaro
Right on the cusp of the elite hookers in the NRL, Segeyaro is ever so close to reaching that threshold of players. On the back of some solid, consistent performances in 2014 and 2015, the live-wire hooker makes his mark for the Panthers on a regular basis. With the likelihood of Segeyaro playing 80 minutes in 2015 each week increasing, so too will his game-time, his stature in the game and the chance to reach that elite threshold should his form continue. In many ways, the 2016 season will perhaps be the most important season in his career to see if he can take his game and his form to the next level.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Kirisome Auva’a
2015 was not the best year for Auva’a both on and off the field, as he was suspended for domestic violence late in the season and then when he did play, he struggled somewhat to find his form. 2016 beckons and he has a chance to recapture his 2014 form and become a focal point of the Souths attack. With the departure of Dylan Walker, a lot more traffic can be expected to come the way of Auva’a who will be expected to capitalise and make the most of the added responsibility. On talent alone, Auva’a has proven that he can play in the NRL but his off-field issues have put him offside with many fans and rightfully so. With a ban now complete and a full pre-season under his belt, Souths fans will hope Auva’a can emulate 2014 and excel once more.
St George Illawarra Dragons: Mose Masoe
Once upon a time, Masoe was in the NRL and performing at a decent level. Fast forward to 2016 and after a stint in the Super League with a couple of sides, Masoe has come back eager to make an impact and a difference at the Dragons side. Joining the club despite overtures from elsewhere, if selected, he will offer size and impact off the bench and may well be a key figure. With the recent success of other former players heading to Super League and returning as better players – Iosia Soliola as the most recent example – the Dragons and their fans will be hoping that he can emulate that sort of success and play solid, consistent footy.
Sydney Roosters: Jackson Hastings
He has a famous last name synonymous with the Roosters club but Jackson Hastings will be out to forge his own identity and the signs are there that he can perform efficiently on his own. With added responsibility in 2016 given the departure of James Maloney, Hastings will have to learn the ropes quickly and remain consistent in a halves pairing alongside Mitch Pearce. Versatile and talented, Hastings will have to adapt quickly but having a solid support base around him at the Roosters is something that will help him make the transition into a regular starter much easier. He & Pearce have the potential to continue the good foundations led by Roosters halves in the past.
Wests Tigers: Ava Seumanufagai
One of the surprise packets of the Tigers pack last year, Seumanufagai impressed many fans with his work-ethic, desire and committment, despite a lean year for the Tigers himself. With the Tigers overall forward depth still a bit lax, there is a good chance for the hulking forward to make an impression of his own and continue to impress the fans, the club and the coach. The change in interchange rules may also work in his favour, as he continues his on-field and off-field development as a player, constantly seeking ways to improve himself and to make the best possible impact to benefit the Tigers team.
New Zealand Warriors: Konrad Hurrell
There would be very few around the NRL that are not mindful of how destructive Hurrell can be when he is on song and firing, but he has come under criticism somewhat over the last couple of years. Eager to cement a spot in the Warriors back-line, keep it and then excel, the man they call the ‘Hurrellicane’ is a powerful player that is scintillating to watch in top form. Fans criticised his work-rate and defence and that has led to stints in and out of first-grade over the last 18 months but if he puts those pieces together and improves, he can be a destructive player once more. With all clubs needing raw power somewhere in their team, Hurrell could just be the man for the Warriors in that regard to help both the club and himself. After all, he can be regarded as an x-factor.