Every player starts somewhere and there are a litany of rookies that will ply their trade with the big guns, desperate to reach for the stars. 

Some unfortunately do not make it but for the ones that do, stardom and the bright lights of first-grade soon hit them, and with that comes a burden, an added responsibility.

Looking to follow in the footsteps of Ezra Mam, Tolutau Koula, Jeremiah Nanai and more, the pressure might be on, but one of these kids is potentially destined to be the best rookie of the year.

So here are our picks for the best rookie out of every club who might get a crack in first-grade in 2023:

Brisbane Broncos

Xavier Willison is a name that Broncos fans have been raving about for a couple of years now and one that has unbridled talent to succeed in the NRL.

A tall rangy prop, 2021 was meant to be his year as he put a few games on the trot before an ACL injury struck late in the season.

For most of 2022, he stuck it out at Norths Devils, worked hard and consistently, and put the Broncos coaches on notice as a guy who is ready to perform.

With plenty of uncertainty surrounding the make-up of the Broncos pack in 2023 – particularly off the bench – Willison looms as a strong candidate to nab a spot.

Canberra Raiders

Another young forward on the lips of many fans but this time from the nation’s capital is Trey Mooney. A tall, powerful lock, Mooney has all the skills to succeed.

With a strong frame and a silky, smooth offload, there are some who believe Mooney could and should be the starter at lock ahead of the new season.

Though with other more experienced players in line for that, it is a bench spot where Mooney could really shine to start the season before taking over the lock mantle come the end of the season.

The opportunity is ripe for him given the Raiders only have a small number of pure locks on their roster.

Canterbury Bulldogs

Will he or won’t he? That is the question that remains to be answered out Bulldogs way as to whether or not Paul Alamoti starts at centre.

A naturally gifted athlete still growing into his body, it is scary to think just how good Alamoti can become if he applies himself and works both hard and diligently.

Still only 18 and tipping the scales at 98kg, he has all the tools to become a truly top centre, he just needs the chance.

He has made players at junior level and in the NSW Cup look silly with a mixture of strength and smarts and you would need to have some cajones to think the same would not happen in first-grade.

Cronulla Sharks

A man with rugby league in his blood; blue and white blood to be more specific. Kade Dykes is a third generation player and destined for bigger and better things.

A crafty, nimble fullback, Dykes had a brief opportunity to show what he could do in 2022 and looked solid.

With expected improvement to follow, the reports suggest that the Sharks see Dykes as their long-term man in the custodian role.

Could those opportunities come soon and can he push Will Kennedy for first-grade honours with a string of strong performances in the lower grades?

His ceiling is high and it should just be a matter of time before he reaches the top and even surpasses it.

Redcliffe Dolphins

When you think about the fact that Valynce Te Whare had never played rugby league prior to the end of 2021, his meteoric rise has been nothing short of impressive.

Excelling for the Dolphins QLD Cup side, Te Whare rightfully took out the competition’s Centre of the Year Award after a blistering campaign.

Te Whare’s 2022 campaign saw him finish with 12 tries, 17 line-breaks, 85 tackle busts and 2 try assists; not bad for a bloke who is so new to the game of rugby league.

Although the more experienced players may get the nod for Te Whare to begin the season, it has to be a matter of time before he gets to test himself against the elites.

Gold Coast Titans

He got a taste at the back end of 2022 and there’s every chance that 2023 could be Klese Haas’ year. A strongly built back-rower, Haas will look to forge his own path.

The younger brother of Broncos forward Payne Haas, Klese has shown that he can stand on his own two feet, as he continues to seek that regular first-grade berth.

With the exact makeup of the Titans’ bench still not known, Haas has a chance to make it and further stake his claim.

The Filipino international will look to add to his tally of two NRL games to date.

Manly Sea Eagles

There might be another namesake – and it is a famous one in the circles of the Manly Sea Eagles – but there is no doubt that Zac Fulton is ready for first-grade.

Zac is the grandson of the late Bob Fulton, one of Manly’s greatest ever.

After an impressive debut at the back end of the 2022 season, the back-rower/lock showed that he has all the pedigree required to play regularly.

Whether it be working hard on his game and for those around him or putting on some big hits, Fulton is every chance to add to his NRL tally in 2023.

The departures of several forwards have left at least a couple of spots open on the bench and with a new system and a new coach, all he has to do is impress and he might play sooner rather than later.

Melbourne Storm

When Andrew Johns sings your praises, the pressure is already on but Jonah Pezet seems like a talented player that can shrug that off and perform.

Although it may be a couple of years before we see him regularly for the Storm, his pedigree was on shown at the U19’s Origin from halfback.

He blitzed the Queensland side with four try assists and a masterful display on how to control the game.

Equally, in the QLD Cup, he performed solidly, and with his long-term future at the Storm sorted, the name Pezet in first-grade again is just a matter of time.

Newcastle Knights

Having been around a few sides now, the time is ripe for Krystian Mapapalangi to make his mark on the NRL.

The raw talent is there, the ability is there, and there will be no better chance to see him in action than the trials to kick things off.

A centre/five-eighth, if Ponga is struggling with injury or during periods where you want to rest star players, Mapapalangi is a handy player to have at your disposal.

There is every chance he could even start the year at centre, such have been some of the reports floating around.

Whenever his chance comes, however, one would expect him to perform well.

New Zealand Warriors

Ask New Zealand Warriors fans about Otukinekina Kepu and Valingi Kepu, twin brothers, both props, ready to make their mark, and you will hear good words.

The hulking duo have performed strongly for Redcliffe in the past and although we may not see them to begin the year, a first-grade berth down the track is not out of the question.

Signed for the next few seasons, new coach Andrew Webster may be after some new, young blood, especially if the Warriors get off to a stagnant start.

North Queensland Cowboys

Plenty of Fijians have come over from Rugby 7’s and Taniela Sadrugu is the Cowboys’ man to make the shift and he has looked good.

A utility in that he can cover centre, wing or the back-row, many Cowboys fans are hoping that he can snag a back-row spot which could happen but is perhaps unlikely to.

Sadrugu has made his presence known in the QLD Cup with the Townsville Blackhawks, scoring 7 tries in 15 games.

As his game continues to develop, Sadrugu will look to not only play in the NRL but to also add to his games for Fiji.

The sky is the limit for Sadrugu; he just needs the chance from Todd Payten.

Parramatta Eels

Big, tough wingers are not always a dime-a-dozen anymore but the Parramatta Eels may just have one in the ranks in Samuel Loizou. 

Coming through the Eels ranks from SG Ball level, Loizou is slowly starting to grow into his body and will look to have a stellar NSW Cup season to push for first-grade berths.

He has tasted first-grade, playing a sole game back in 2021 when the Eels rested the majority of their team ahead of the finals.

That first taste will have him wanting more and any Eels fans or general fans who want to see more of him can likely do so during the upcoming NRL trials.

Penrith Panthers

He has tasted first-grade, he has excelled in the NSW Cup and if he does well enough, he could even keep Taylan May on the sidelines.

That’s right, it’s Penrith’s Fijian winger/fullback Sunia Turuva who has impressed at pretty much every opportunity he has been given both for Penrith and Fiji.

He made his international debut before he made his NRL debut which tells you just how impressive his form was in the NSW Cup.

With every chance to solidify a spot for 2023, Turuva is likely to be the next player to emerge and be a standout from the Panthers’ impressive junior crop.

St George Illawarra Dragons

Some players are lucky to make a first-grade debut at 18. Others, like Nick Lui-Toso, have to wait until longer. 26 or 27 to be specific.

That is not to say that they do not have talent, given many variables play a part in when and now a player debuts.

Though with plenty of uncertainty about the Dragons pack and a potential spot up for grabs, it may be Lui-Toso’s time.

Lui-Toso comes off a very strong season with the Northern Pride in the QLD Cup, itching to make that same mark for the Dragons.

South Sydney Rabbitohs

He was in the running to start at halfback last year before the Rabbitohs went went with Lachlan Ilias but many fans were disappointed that Dean Hawkins did not get the nod.

Hawkins, who has tasted first-grade is a local junior, and a talented halfback and has shown that he can lead a side around the park for the Rabbitohs’ feeder side.

With Ilias still finding his feet and Blake Taaffe seemingly demoted to a bench utility, there is a chance for Hawkins to impress in trials as well as earn a starting berth near the end of the season.

He is one to keep an eye on as his deft touches and abilities have seen him link up well with his team-mates in the lower grades.

Sydney Roosters

The rise that Siua Wong saw in 2022 is nothing short of insane. He went from playing SG Ball to being a starting back-rower in the NSW Cup.

A strong, hard-working forward, Wong runs a great line, and always performs diligently, as Roosters fans rave about him and his potential.

With a slim chance of making the bench, Wong will continue to work on his trade and his game in the NSW Cup to become even better.

His feats have not gone unnoticed either, with the young forward debuting for Fiji at the Rugby League World Cup, giving him a taste of elite rugby league action.

Wests Tigers

Perhaps one of the most promising hookers yet to play first-grade, Rua Ngatikaura is undoubtedly set for mega stardom in the NRL.

Coming through the Wests Tigers Pathways system, Ngatikaura’s smarts, quickness, awareness and powerful dummy half running have caused trouble for many sides.

He is held in such high regard that he was captain of the Tigers 2021 Jersey Flegg side and has been compared in the past to Brandon Smith.

Although hooker is predominantly his position, Ngatikaura has covered the lock role as well to help fill gaps.

How much action he sees to begin with given the signing of Api Koroisau remains to be seen but if he can move above Jake Simpkin in the pecking order, anything is possible.


By ricky

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