Who are the most-promising youngsters in the NRL? Jack Murchie, Kyle Flanagan, Lachlan Croker and a host of others are coming through the ranks and are set to make their name over the next eight months.
Many of these rookies were hyped during the 2017 campaign and again this pre-season. The recent trials have seen many of them showcase their talent.
Following is a club-by-club look at a selection of the young men tipped to make their name during the 2018 Telstra Premiership.
Brisbane Broncos: Patrick Carrigan
Date of birth: January 1, 1998 (age 20)
Representative honours: QLD Maroons under 20s 2016-17, NYC Team of the Year 2017, Broncos under 20 Player of the Year 2016-17, Broncos under 20 Players’ Player 2017
With plenty of junior representative experience, Carrigan is a physical and dynamic forward who demonstrates a strong work ethic. With two Broncos NYC Player of the Year awards under his belt, the 20-year-old has already demonstrated he is ready to step up to the next level of the game. He comes into 2018 hungry for a Telstra Premiership debut.
Canberra Raiders: Jack Murchie
Date of birth: June 26, 1997 (age 20)
Position: Second row
Representative honours: Junior Kangaroos 2017, NSW Blues under 20s 2017, State of Origin under 20s Man of the Match 2017, NYC Team of the Year 2017
Murchie had an outstanding 2017 season with the Raiders under 20s and the Mounties’ Intrust Super Premiership side. This pre-season was his first with the top grade squad. Among a big forward pack at the Raiders, Murchie will continue to develop and build his game.
“I’ve set the goal of being consistent while improving my game and learning from the older players and Ricky [Stuart],” Murchie said. “Off the back of that hopefully everything falls into place and I’ll get a crack in NRL.”
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs: Rhyse Martin
Date of birth: March 1, 1993 (24)
Position: Second row
Representative honours: Papua New Guinea squad 2015, Intrust Super Cup Team of the Year 2016
Martin is a powerhouse forward who spent the last couple of years developing his game in Queensland’s Intrust Super Cup with the Townsville Blackhawks, in addition to the Roosters’ and Bulldogs’ NRL training squads.
He is yet to make his NRL debut but after representing PNG at the World Cup last year, but played strongly in Canterbury’s trial win over Penrith at Belmore.
“This is definitely the hardest pre-season I’ve ever done considering I missed the first six weeks of it [due to injury], which I’m not glad to say I missed because the boys were doing it tough,” Martin said.
“The goal would be to definitely be playing NRL, getting a shot up there and playing good, consistent football. I don’t just want one game. I want to prove myself, show that I can play and compete at that NRL level.”
Cronulla Sharks: Kyle Flanagan
Date of birth: September 15, 1998 (19)
Representative honours: NYC Team of the Year 2017, Emerging Blues squad 2018
The youngster turned heads last season in the NYC competition where he broke the competition’s point-scoring record with 360 points in 26 games. An NRL debut is likely to be on the horizon for the play-making half. In bad news, Flanagan is presently sidelined with a broken hand.
Gold Coast Titans: AJ Brimson
Date of birth: September 9, 1998 (19)
Representative honours: Emerging Maroons squad 2017, NYC Team of the Year 2017, QRL Mal Meninga Cup Player of the Year Award 2017
Brimson captained the Titans’ under 20 team in the NYC last season. After an exceptional year at halfback, he was rewarded for his efforts when selected in the 2017 NYC Team of the Year. Now training with Gold Coast’s NRL squad, the speedster is continuing to close in on a debut.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles: Lachlan Croker
Date of birth: December 12, 1996 (21)
Representative honours: Junior Kangaroos 2016
Croker made his NRL debut for the Raiders in 2016 but hasn’t re-appeared in the top grade since. A second ACL injury while playing for Mounties in the Intrust Super Premiership played a large role in that absence. Now with Manly, Croker is the favourite to replace Blake Green (now with the Warriors) in Trent Barrett’s team to contest the opening round of the Telstra Premiership.
Melbourne Storm: Scott Drinkwater
Date of birth: May 15, 1997 (20)
Representative Honours: Australian Schoolboys 2015
Drinkwater’s recent years have been spent building his game in the Intrust Super Cup with the Sunshine Coast Falcons. The young No.6 is in the final year of a three-season deal with the Storm. He is yet to make his debut, but following Cooper Cronk’s departure to the Roosters his number may soon be called.
“Every position is still up for grabs so I’m still going to work hard and challenge people above me for a position,” Drinkwater said.
“The coaching staff will make a decision closer to the season who fits where. The only thing I can do is come in every day and train as hard as I can and to the best of my ability.”
Newcastle Knights: Dylan Phythian
Date of birth: August 19, 1995 (22)
Phythian made his NRL debut in round 25 of the 2016 season against the Rabbitohs. With only a couple of NRL appearances that season, we are yet to see the full potential of this rising star after he suffered an ACL injury in round one of the 2017 season.
Throughout the pre-season he continued to gain strength and confidence in his knee and is looking to be eligible for selection in the first few games of the 2018 season.
“I’m back out on the field with the boys doing fitness which makes it heaps easier. It’s still pretty hard, it’s been a long year,” Phythian said.
“First of all, I want to get over my knee, get my confidence back to be able to play with it. I obviously want to get a few consistent games wherever that is, then work for that first-grade spot whether it’s on the bench or starting.
“The vibe is heaps better than last year. The intensity at training has picked up heaps, especially with all of the older experienced boys coming in and the quality that they bring is heaps better already.”
New Zealand Warriors: Isaiah Papali’i
Date of birth: September 20, 1998 (19)
Representative honors: Junior Kiwis 2016, Warriors under 20s Player of the Year 2016
Papali’i has made several NRL appearances in the 2017 season. Continuing to build his game and taking what he learned from last year will allow better opportunity of cracking a full-time spot in the NRL. That may be a challenge considering Adam Blair has joined the Warriors, but it also means Papali’i has a chance to learn from one of the game’s best.
North Queensland Cowboys: Kyle Laybutt
Date of birth: September 26, 1995 (22)
Representative honours: Queensland Residents team 2017
In last year’s pre-season, Laybutt made headlines after kicking a game-winning field goal to defeat the Sydney Roosters 11-10.
With a stacked Cowboys side, he didn’t make his debut until round 15 of that season against the Melbourne Storm. Depending on how Johnathan Thurston’s shoulder holds up, this could be the perfect opportunity for the young back to gain further first experience and advance his game.
“It was unreal from the start,” Laybutt said of last year’s experience. “I came into the side after they just won the grand final so it was a pretty awesome experience having all those boys there. Their confidence was obviously high after a grand final win so it was just a good environment to be in.
“My first goal is probably to get a regular spot in the first-grade team and just try to secure my future and get another contract for the next few years.”
Parramatta Eels: Marata Niukore
Date of birth: July 29, 1996 (21)
Position: Second row
Representative honors: Junior Kiwis 2015, Cook Islands 2017
The Cook Islands international is still awaiting a call-up for his debut. The hard-hitting forward spent last season with the Wentworthville Magpies side NSW Instrust Super Premiership where he was looked upon as a key player throughout the season. With the 2018 NRL season just around the corner, Niukore is ready to wrestle it out against the game’s best forwards.
Penrith Panthers: Jed Cartwright
Date of birth: October 24, 1996 (21)
Position: Second row
The Panthers youngster could soon become the sixth member of his family to put on the club’s NRL jersey – a proud legacy for the Cartwright tribe that includes his father John, cousin Bryce and uncles Cliff, David, Michael and Merv (one of the club’s founding fathers).
The second-rower spent last year with the Penrith Intrust Super Premiership side that took out the competition after defeating Queensland’s PNG Hunters 42-18. After an impressive year, the versatile player will be looking to make his NRL debut this season.
“In the NSW Cup side last year we had so much NRL experience in that side. Mitch Rein was big for all of us young boys teaching us how to prepare,” Cartwright said.
“My main goal this year is to make my NRL debut and if I achieve that then I want to become a mainstay in the side.
”Then, just like if you ask any young NRL player coming through, they want to play for NSW or Australia down the track, which I think is everyone’s goal and objective.”
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Adam Doueihi
Date of birth: August 5, 1998 (19)
Representative honours: Australian Schoolboys Rugby Union 2016, Lebanon World Cup squad 2017
The 19-year-old stepped onto the scene when he was called upon to represent his country of heritage, Lebanon, in the 2017 World Cup. He has proved he is able to hold his own in both the halves andcentre positions. Doueihi is yet to debut for the Rabbitohs but this season could be his chance.
St George Illawarra Dragons: Tristan Sailor
Date of birth: June 23, 1998 (19)
Representative honours: Nominated for Dally M Holden Cup Player of the Year 2017, Queensland under 20s team 2017, Emerging Maroons squad 2017
The son of former St George Illawarra legend Wendell Sailor is following in his father’s footsteps after joining the Dragons first-grade squad ahead of the 2018 season.
The young utility was rewarded for his efforts in last year’s NYC season when nominated for Dally M Holden Cup Player of the Year.
The NRL experience will be a big step up for the rising star, but may also come with potential opportunity for his NRL debut.
Sydney Roosters: Lachlan Lam
Date of birth: March 25, 1998 (19)
Representative honors: Emerging Maroons squad 2017, PNG World Cup Squad 2017
Lachlan Lam has been a part of the Sydney Roosters youth system since he was 13-year’s-old. Following his father Adrian Lam, a former Maroons halfback and Papua New Guinea International, Lachlan was selected in the Maroons under 20 side and became the first player selected under the State of Origin father-son rule. The talented young player is yet to make his debut for the Roosters but after he starred for PNG in last year’s World Cup his NRL chances are looking bright.
Wests Tigers: Tyson Gamble
Date of birth: June 21, 1996 (21)
Representative honours: Don McLennan Trophy Player of the Final 2017
Gamble signed with the Tigers at the end of last year and is currently one of the only rookies coming through the Tigers first-grade squad. He should have no problem picking up a thing or two from the club’s experienced halves, led by recruits Benji Marshall and Josh Reynolds.
“Pre-season has been really tough but it’s been awesome, I’m living a childhood dream at the moment,” Gamble said.
“To be able to take the field at training with some of the boys at the Tigers, like Benji Marshall and Josh Reynolds, I’m learning so much already.
“I hope to be playing in our first trial game in Cairns. It would be great to get the experience of how an NRL team works around game time but mostly I’m excited to wear the jersey. To be able to put on a Wests Tigers jersey will be a really big thing for me.”