Hallelujah, the NRL season is almost upon us. Just days away, the clubs will name their first side of the year on Tuesday, so get ready – because the debutants are coming.
Whether it be through retirement, injury, suspension or simply an impressive pre-season, a stack of youngsters are set to impose themselves on rugby league this year, starting what could become a host of lengthy NRL careers.
Thursday night will see the season kicked off with the premiers Cronulla hosting Brisbane, signalling the beginning of Dally M Holden Cup Player of the Year Jayden Brailey’s career. With Michael Ennis having retired last season, Brailey is set to beat out both Manaia Cherrington and Dan Mortimer for the hooking role. The young gun started in the World Club Challenge a week ago, impressing coach Shane Flanagan.
"I thought he was outstanding," Flanagan said.
"To come into an environment like this in front of a full house in a World Club Challenge and make your debut in the middle, it's a fair ask.”
The next night, two debutants are set to go head to head in the South Sydney-Wests Tigers clash. Moses Suli, the highest paid uncapped player of all time, is set to line-up on the left wing for the Tigers outside Jamal Idris.
Meanwhile, speedster Braidon Burns looks to have beaten Siosifa Talakai for the backline vacancy and will start on the right wing following an eye-catching stint in the Charity Shield.
Cooks Island representative Esan Marsters is also an outside chance of earning a bench spot after a strong pre-season, including games in the Auckland Nines and trial loss to the Cowboys. Kyle Lovett is suspended for the opening round, leaving the door ajar for Marsters.
The Newcastle Knights have already confirmed they’ll carry two debutants on the bench, with backrower Sam Stone and lock Luke Yates both kicking off their first-grade careers in New Zealand. Both local juniors, the Knights debuted twelve players in 2016, including five in the first round. If the Knights are to improve this year, they’ll players like Yates and Stone to be steady and constant inclusions in the side.
Jai Field has been one of the most exciting players in the pre-season so far, scoring one of the best tries at the Auckland Nines. Unfortunately, a poor half in the Charity Shield looks to have landed Josh McCrone the starting halfback role. But fear not Dragon's fans, expect Field to be named on the bench for the Red V, easing his way into the hustle and bustle of week in, week out NRL football.
While these names ll stand out, don’t be surprised if coaches throw in some more surprises, with all clubs now required to name a 21-man squad every Tuesday, so expect to see a few unfamiliar names lingering in those 18-21 spots.