Late last month I mentioned the three teams I thought would improve dramatically in 2015. For those who didn’t read, I named the Cronulla Sharks, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and New Zealand Warriors.
It’s now time to look at five players who I believe will improve on their 2014 efforts. Of course it’s impossible to detail every player who will improve on last year, but the below five are five players I expect to tear up in 2015.
As always, opinions are welcome. Who do you believe will be the breakout star of 2015? Will the below five be the big improvers, or will they crash and burn?
1. Blake Austin - Raiders
As I’ve mentioned previously, Blake Austin might be the under the radar signing of the season. Although he never nailed down a regular gig for the Tigers, he will likely slot straight into the halves with young Mitch Cornish.
He’s quick, strong, and clever, and can play anywhere in the backline, as well as the halves, hooker or at lock. Ricky Stuart, a decent halfback in his day, will look to pass on his knowledge in the playmaking role.
Austin’s efforts against the Sharks in the final round showed a glimpse of what young Austin is capable of. With a full time gig in the halves, I believe Austin will absolutely flourish.
2. Sam Tomkins – Warriors
After making a big money move from the English Super League, it’s fair to say Sam Tomkins had an underwhelming debut season in the NRL. That’s not to say he didn’t play well, but the best is yet to come for the English superstar.
Tomkins showed at times that he would not only justify, but exceed the money spent by the Warriors in both transfer fees and wages, but unfortunately for Warriors fans, he could not find that level consistently.
The Warriors will have plenty of attacking weapons in their arsenal in 2015, but if Tomkins fires, he could give Johnson a run for his money as the ace in the pack. I expect a huge 2015 for Tomkins after a year adjusting to the NRL standard and style of play.
3. Ben Barba - Sharks
Ben Barba had an indifferent 2014 after signing a big money, long-term contract at the Broncos. Although Sharks fans will be excited about his improved performances once moved into the halves to partner Ben Hunt.
Signed as a five-eighth Barba will be looked upon to provide the spark they lacked in 2014, and they lacked plenty of spark. He should be able to play off plenty of space being that he will work behind the likes of Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita.
Quite frankly his 2015 couldn’t be a whole lot worse than the beginning of 2014, but I fully see Barba re-establishing himself as a superstar of the game once he settles in at the Sharks. As a former Dally M medallist, he has it in him.
4. Mitchell Moses - Tigers
Mitchell Moses will partner fellow young gun Luke Brooks in the halves this season, forming the most exciting young halves combination in the NRL. Although he does not arrive in first grade with as big a wraps as his fellow halves partner, I think it will be Moses who has an amazing 2015.
He played just the ten games at NRL level last season, this season I expect him to play double that, injury aside of course. A big off season in the gym should see him fill out and become all the more dangerous next season.
It’s a shame that the under 20’s origin fall out occurred like it did, as his brilliant performance in the game will be overshadowed. Moses may largely go unnoticed in favour of Brooks, but this kid is chock full of talent and I believe he will firmly establish himself in 2015.
5. Bryce Cartwright – Panthers
Young Bryce Cartwright, at just 20 years of age, is arguably the best young second rower in the competition. Prior to his injury earlier this year, Cartwright established himself as an important part of the Panthers line up.
He will only improve further in 2015, which considering his ability, could be scary. Panthers fans will enjoy his services for at least the next four seasons as he signed a contract until the end of 2018.
The potential second row combination with Tyrone Peachy is one of the more exciting combos. Both are young, fast, can step, and have the ball playing ability of a five-eighth. Cartwright will play Origin in the not too distant future.
Hon Mention: Sione Mata'utia
Would definitely be on the list except for the fact it’s going to be hard to top a Kangaroos debut after just seven first grade appearances. He will be a mega star if he maintains his incredible rate of development.
Agree? Disagree? Take the debate up with @suthodan on Twitter!