It is the rugby league competition where stars are born.
From Cameron Smith to Cameron Munster, the Intrust Super Cup has been a breeding ground for a cavalcade of the outstanding players of the modern game.
Ahead of the kick-off to the Intrust Super Cup season this weekend, NRL.com spoke to all 14 head coaches about one player from their squad who is yet to play at the top level but has the ability and dedication to play in the NRL.
The roll call of players in the Telstra Premiership today who played plenty of games in the Queensland-based state league is vast and also includes Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Matt Gillett and Cooper Cronk.
In this feature, NRL.com has showcased all 14 clubs and also listed their key gains and losses.
EASTS TIGERS: Brett Greinke
Rugged forward Brett Greinke once captained the Brisbane Broncos under-20s, and after an extended period of his career with mimimal game time, he is now ready to relaunch in the NRL.
“Brett had a blood virus last year and broke an ankle so he hasn’t played much footy in the last 18 months,” East Tigers coach Scott Sipple said.
“He is just a tough kid who likes it physical and trains the way he plays…at 100 miles an hour.
“He was in the Broncos and South Sydney systems and I can see him playing NRL if he can string a few games together which is why I gave him a trial with the Melbourne Storm in Rotorua, and the feedback I received from [Melbourne assistant coach] Jason Ryles was very good.”
Sipple said he would play Greinke on an edge due to player availability but conceded his future was more suited as a middle forward.
“He’s a more Dale Finucane type of player with his work ethic, all the little things he does, his tidy-up work and his pressure on the kickers. It is all done with no fuss,” he said.
“He is the only kid I know in this competition that out of his own pocket bought a $3000 to $4000 game reader. It is basically a fancy ice pack and usually each club will have one, but he takes it with him and travels with it. After every session, after coming off a couple of serious injuries, he is straight on the ice pack at home.”
KEY GAINS: Brett Greinke, David Tyrrell (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Jarred Tuite (Canberra Raiders), Harley Aiono (Redcliffe Dolphins).
KEY LOSSES: Mat Pitman, Luke Lavelle, Matt Zgrajewski (retired).
SOUTHS-LOGAN MAGPIES: Sam Lavea
Formerly in the Broncos system, 21-year-old prop Sam Lavea is a giant of a man and one of the rising stars of the Intrust Super Cup.
Souths-Logan coach Jon Buchanan said Lavea, a Queensland rep at junior level, had played some NYC for the Broncos before missing the 2016 season with an illness.
“Last year he came back to us from Brisbane and played 20-odd games and started the last 10 for us. That was off the back of no footy the year before and he just got better as the year went on,” Buchanan said.
“He is a player the Broncos would have seriously considered keeping but with the quality young guys they have coming through they probably had to let one or two go.
“If he has a big season this year there will be NRL clubs knocking his door down. He’s 112kg, six foot five, athletic and mobile. He’s a big, explosive thing, and a tough kid too.”
KEY GAINS: Sam Lavea, Travis Waddell (Brisbane Broncos), Guy Hamilton (Sunshine Coast Falcons), Uiti Baker (Newcastle).
KEY LOSSES: Joe Boyce (Townsville Blackhawks), Matt Minto (work commitments).
NORTHERN PRIDE: Shawn Bowen
A Willie Tonga clone is on the rise at the Northern Pride with dazzling outside back Shawn Bowen tipped to have a big future in the game.
A junior from Mossman, north of Cairns, Pride coach Ty Williams said there was a lot to like about Bowen.
“Shawn plays left centre or left wing for us and he has come on in leaps and bounds over the last couple years,” Williams said.
“I played with Willie Tonga back in the day and Shawn is very similar with his footwork and his strength and power generally, and he has a really good in-and-away like Tongs.
“Defensively he is very good and he has all the talent in the world.
“For Shawn it is all about understanding the training component of rugby league but he is getting better and better.
“He ticks all the boxes and is only in his early 20s. Maybe not this year, but in the future I can definitely see him getting picked up by an NRL club.”
KEY GAINS: Todd Carney (Salford), Jack Murphy (England), David Murphy (Easts Tigers), Brett Anderson (Innisfail Leprechauns), James Clark (Canterbury Bulldogs).
KEY LOSSES: Luke George (CQ Capras), Joel Riethmuller (retired).
TWEED HEADS SEAGULLS: Cheyne Whiteaw
There is a place for the workaholic, relentless defender back-rower in every NRL squad and Tweed Heads Seagulls have their own version in Cheyne Whiteaw.
Whiteaw was a star for the North Sydney Bears last year in the Intrust Super Premiership where he made the team of the year and played NSW Residents.
New Tweed Heads coach Ben Woolf said Whiteaw was a smart footballer, competitive and a physical defender who had the goods to go to the next level.
“Cheyne falls into that Dallas Johnson mould of a real workhorse and quality defender, or in today’s game Dale Finucane from the Storm,” Woolf said.
“He is one of those players who will make 40 or 50 tackles a game and clean everything up defensively.
“I think NRL squads need a player like that to mix in with the big guys with the big carries. He’ll play lock for us when he comes back from a wrist injury.”
KEY GAINS: Cheyne Whiteaw, Eli Levido (North Sydney Bears), Ryland Jacobs (Wests Tigers), Hiale Roycroft (North Queensland Cowboys 20s).
KEY LOSSES: Nick Harrold (Tugun), Carne Doyle-Manga (Norths Devils).
SUNSHINE COAST FALCONS: Chris Lewis
The best players have a habit of ensuring the difference between an outstanding game and a poor one is miniscule and that is just one reason why Sunshine Coast Falcons back-rower Chris Lewis is tipped to go far.
Formerly in the St George/Illawarra Dragons system, Lewis has been described by Falcons coach Craig Ingebrigtsen as an out-and-out “rugby league player” with plenty of skill.
He arrived at the club mid-way through last season and his line breaking ability and nous soon caught the eye.
“Chris is an Aidan Guerra style of a player where he runs a really good line and is outstanding defensively,” Ingebrigtsen said.
“He doesn’t have express pace or the leg speed of a Matt Gillett but you know what you are going to get out of him each week.
“He is a real toiler and the gap between his best and worst game is very small.”
KEY GAINS: Jacob Hind (St George/Illawarra Dragons), Brentt Warr (France), Lachlan Roe (Ipswich Jets).
KEY LOSSES: Jon Grieve (retired), Guy Hamilton (Souths-Logan Magpies).
CQ CAPRAS: Billy Cullen
Billy Cullen is a barnstorming prop/second-rower with a tackling technique likened to Manly’s Jake Trbojevic and CQ Capras coach Kim Williams insists he has the right mindset to make it in the NRL.
Cullen, a local junior, played with the Mounties last year and did a full pre-season with the Raiders before returning to the Capras.
“Billy is a brutal defender and drives in really low and hard with his tackles like Jake Trbojevic,” Williams said.
“He’s six foot four, strong and athletic with an excellent work ethic and attitude. He’s dedicated and has the right mind set to make the next step.
“He’s only 22 and he’s come back to this level to hopefully get another crack at the NRL in the near future.
“Billy got picked up by the Raiders last year before June 30 on a train and trial and they kept him on until last week, but I am sure he will get another opportunity.”
KEY GAINS: Dave Taylor (Toronto Wolfpack), Jerry Key, Blake Goodman (Wests Tigers), Connor Broadhurst (Burleigh Bears), Dave Cowhan (Albury Thunder).
KEY LOSSES: Krys Freeman (Townsville Blackhawks), Gavin Hiscox (retired), Guy Williams (Norths Devils), Matt Groat (Easts Tigers).
IPSWICH JETS: Michael Purcell
Ipswich flyer Michael Purcell has scored 36 tries in 37 Intrust Super Cup games and is known as the “Kangaroo catcher” due to the fact he once chased down a giant kangaroo as a youth.
Jets co-coach Shane Walker said Purcell, who plays fullback and wing, was in the mould of Melbourne Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr and had the rare combination of blistering speed and durability.
“Purcell and Addo-Carr are both finely built speed demons and certainly tough enough and durable enough to take a hit too,” Walker said.
“Michael is a try scoring machine and has ridiculous cardio. He ran seventh in the New York Marathon for his age group, which makes him quite unique because those long distance athletes notoriously aren’t as explosively quick as he is.
“Over 100m he is certainly one of the quickest players that we’ve ever had. If I think of a Bronco he’s as fast as he is right up there with the quick guys who could hold their speed over 100m like Wendell Sailor or Chris [Walker].”
Walker said Purcell had a “presence about himself” and was no stranger to hard work.
KEY GAINS: Julian Christian (Broncos NYC), Marmin Barba (Mackay), Pio Seci (Fiji Bati), Sam Caslick (Australian Rugby 7s), Cameron Moran (Wyong Roos), Silas Redd (Washington Redskins – NFL).
KEY LOSSES: Lachlan Roe (Sunshine Coast Falcons), Mikaere Beattie (Norths Devils).
REDCLIFFE DOLPHINS: Nathan Watts
The Redcliffe Dolphins are known for fielding some more than handy props, think Arthur Beetson, and in Nathan Watts they have a big bopper coach Adam Mogg insists can go far.
Mogg said Watts had made massive strides in the past 12 months and had the attributes NRL coaches were looking for in the modern day front-rower.
“Nathan is in his early 20s and has put on four or five kilos of muscle this year and his whole personal development has been a lot stronger,” Mogg said.
“I think in the next 12 months he’ll put on another five kilos of muscle and be in the 110kg area and ready to play NRL.
“He’s super fit and runs really good times, and is one of those players who can play big minutes in the middle.
“In the NRL he could be one of those guys that plays lock forward and really develops his game.”
KEY GAINS: Tony Tumusa (CQ Capras), Cameron Cullen (Manly Sea Eagles), James Taylor (Norths Devils), Scott Schulte (Parramatta Eels).
KEY LOSSES: Matthew Lodge (Brisbane Broncos), Christian Hazard (Newcastle Knights), Tyson Gamble (Wests Tigers), Shane Pumipi (retired).
MACKAY CUTTERS: Jordan Grant
Prop Jordan Grant has only done one pre-season with the Mackay Cutters after being signed from the Wests Tigers but has already caught the eye with his James Tamou-like frame and skill.
Coach Steve Sheppard said Grant had the punch, motor and work ethic to play at the next level.
“Jordan is 193cm, lean and in good shape and he certainly demands to be tackled,” Sheppard said.
“He’s that big body in the mould of a James Tamou so he has that ability to attract defenders in with his size and the strength of his carries.
“He is hard to put on the ground and he plays up tempo and has good footwork to go with it. As a coach you like to have variation in body shapes in your pack and he certainly provides that.
“Jordan suits our style of play, he’s trialled really well in both of our pre-season games and we can’t wait to see how he goes this year.”
KEY GAINS: Jordan Grant, Darcy Cox (Wests Tigers), Jack Hickson (Woden Valley Rams), Tyson Martin (returning).
KEY LOSSES: Cooper Bambling (Canberra Raiders), Setaimata Sa (Wests Mackay), Andrew Davey (Townsville Blackhawks), Jordan Pereira (St George Illawarra Dragons).
TOWNSVILLE BLACKHAWKS: Andrew Davey
After several seasons with the Mackay Cutters, new Townsville Blackhawks back-rower Andrew Davey is tipped to make massive strides forward in the coming season.
Davey has impressed coach Kristian Woolf who can only see upsides in his career.
“Andrew has got all the physical attributes and is a big, tall athletic back-rower with plenty of aggression about him,” he said.
“Since he has been in our system he has put on about seven kilos and that is going to help his footy this year.
“I just think he has a lot of raw and untapped talent.”
Woolf said Davey “could be anything.”
“The thing about him is a lot of time playing in the Emerald country league and while he has a bit of age on him he has a lot of learning to do and I think he will really come on,” Woolf said.
“He is your typical guy out of the country with a real toughness about him.”
KEY GAINS: Krys Freeman (CQ Capras), Rod Griffin (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Jaelen Feeney (Newcastle Knights), Andrew Davey (Mackay Cutters), Kalifa Faifai Loa (St George Illawarra Dragons).
KEY LOSSES: Anthony Mitchell, Michael Parker-Walshe (retired), Blake Leary (Burleigh Bears).
PNG HUNTERS: Watson Boas
The general of the PNG Hunters outfit, halfback Watson Boas has returned from the World Cup campaign with Papua New Guinea a man on a mission.
The 23-year-old has been in the PNG Hunters system for several years and is the younger brother of Hunters star Ase Boas.
Hunters coach Michael Marum said Watson was ready to take the next step and had noted the way his World Cup experience had lifted his off-field preparation.
“I like his attitude off the field and he has matured these past two years,” Marum said.
“Watson has come back from World Cup and has been totally committed to his extras and fitness.
“He’s in better shape than ever and his talk has been great.
“In the trial against the Broncos, without Ase Boas and a few other senior players around him, he led the players around the park well.”
KEY GAINS: Charlie Simon (Lae Tigers), Adam Korave (Fassifern Bombers), Mekenzie Yei (Hela Wigmen), Dilbert Isaac (Rabaul Gurias).
KEY LOSSES: Wellington Albert, Stanton Albert (Widnes Vikings), Israel Eliab (released).
NORTHS DEVILS: Jack Ahearn
Jack Ahearn was once described by former Canberra Raiders captain Clinton Schifcofske as having “a bit of Darren Lockyer about him”.
Ahearn, a ball playing fullback who can also handle the halves, was a dominant player for the Raiders in the under 20s and then for Mounties.
A new signing for Norths Devils, his coach Rohan Smith said he had always been a fan of Ahearn’s footy.
“Jack is a skilful player with very good instincts for the game,” Smith said.
“He has a passing and kicking game and his support play is excellent. Wherever the ball is he is in the picture. He’s a pure and natural footballer and he’s had some good coaching down at Canberra.”
Smith said Ahearn also had a strong kicking game in general play and would be given a “license to play what he sees and dominate the ball when he needs to”.
KEY GAINS: Jack Ahearn (Redcliffe Dolphins), Guy Williams (CQ Capras), Oshae Tuiasau (Townsville Blackhawks), Carne Doyle-Manga (Tweed Heads Seagulls), Sam Wright (Sunshine Coast Falcons), Jamayne Taunoa-Brown (Newcastle Knights).
KEY LOSSES: Billy Brittain (South Sydney), Mathiu Love-Henry (NZ Warriors), Delouise Hoeter (Wynnum Manly), James Taylor (Redcliffe Dolphins).
WYNNUM-MANLY SEAGULLS: Patrick Templeman
Patrick Templeman is a fullback with an array of skills who is back after missing the 2017 season with a shoulder reconstruction.
The 25-year was the Intrust Super Cup player of the year in 2015 and his career was set to kick off before his progress was stalled with injury.
“Pat played NYC with the Bulldogs, and the Cowboys looked at him pretty strongly after he got player of the year,” Seagulls coach Adam Brideson said.
“It is probably just going to be about him putting on some size so his body can handle the rigours of the NRL, but his skill level is high and he has the composure and all the attributes to succeed in an NRL system.
“He is a left foot kicker and runs the ball in a similar manner to Darren Lockyer. While he is not in the same ilk as Lockyer, he has all the same kind of skills Darren did when he was coming through as a young fella.”
KEY GAINS: Delouise Hoeter (Norths Devils), Michael Dobson (Salford Red Devils), Mitchell Cronin, Aaron Rockley, Alex Barr (Brisbane Broncos), Atalea Vea (Leigh Centurions).
KEY LOSSES: Matthew Seamark, Tanu Wulf (retirement), Travis Burns (released).
BURLEIGH BEARS: Sam Coster
Burleigh Bears coach Jimmy Lenihan watched Sam Coster play a key role in helping beat his champion Intrust Super Cup side at Telstra Stadium in 2016 so now he’s glad to have him in his own side.
Not fancy, Coster is a rugged lock who is appreciated by those who know how much all the one-per-centers count.
“He came to us from St George Illawarra and played for their state cup side that beat us in the national final on grand final day in 2016,” Lenihan said.
“Sam is a lock who plays a bit of dummy-half and is a fantastic defender.
“He is a tough, rugged sort of footballer that every pack needs to hold it together and plays big minutes.
“He is a Dale Finucane-type of bloke, not a monster body in the middle but someone who bats above their weight and does a really good job.
“Sam is someone I would push for in the NRL because he has the work ethic and toughness every forward pack needs.”
KEY GAINS: Blake Leary (Townsville Blackhawks), Justin Tavae (CQ Capras), Matt Robinson (France), Josh Berkers (Coogee Dolphins).
KEY LOSSES: Connor Broadhurst (CQ Capras), Darren Griffiths (retired)