Last season saw a stack of youngsters emerge from the shadows, some going further than others. But with the regular season just weeks away, the question remains, which ones can back it up in 2017?
Cleary only stepped in halfway through the regular season, but showed just how cool, calm and collected the head on his shoulders was in the months that followed. His ball-playing skills, as well as his kicking game, is phenomenal for a teenager. Playing behind a superstar forward pack like Penrith’s is a big help for any halfback. With a proper five-eighth alongside him in 2017, Cleary is set for another big year.
Second Year Syndrome: Not likely
Yes, yes, Taylor debuted in 2015 technically. BUT last year was the young half’s first full NRL season, and didn’t he deliver. Playing in a team heavily tipped for last year’s wooden spoon, Taylor lifted the side not only from the bottom but into their first finals series in six years, nabbing the Dally M Rookie of the Year along the way. Jarryd Hayne has a full pre-season under his belt, Kane Elgey is back and expect Taylor to fire again. After starring for the Indigenous All-Stars last week, there’s no wonder Brisbane want him back.
Second Year Syndrome: Nope
The latest Fijian flyer to take the NRL by storm, scoring 23 tries in 21 games in his debut season. Playing outside of rep stars Will Chambers, Kevin Proctor and Cooper Cronk, some tries are easier than most. Blessed with strength and speed, Vunivalu could easily match those numbers again this season, but with speedster Josh Addo-Carr set to start on the left wing and Proctor having departed for the Gold Coast, expect a lower tally from Vunivalu in 2017.
Second Year Syndrome: Possible
Playing in every single game for the Roosters in 2016, the Taree product impressed, playing the majority of the season at the back for the tricolours. Mitchell appeared shaky at times, with the high ball a real problem for the youngster. The inclusion of Michael Gordon is set to see Mitchell move to the centres this season, a real learning curve for the teenage prodigy. The centres will see Latrell handle the ball less, allowing him to focus on his individual game opposed to organising the whole backline.
Second Year Syndrome: Unlikely
Scoring 19 tries in 13 matches isn’t an easy feat, but French isn’t your average rookie. French lit up the Auckland Nines last year, announcing himself to the rugby league world and stealing the spotlight from teammate Semi Radradra. French will start the season as the Eel’s custodian but as we learnt with Latrell Mitchell, spending a full season at fullback isn’t easy for a youngster. The amount of organising and consistency required for a modern day fullback is incredible, making it one of the most important positions of today. French is too good a player to flop, but he’ll struggle at times at the back.
Second Year Syndrome: Likely
Jacob & Daniel Saifiti
Novocastrian twins the Saifiti brothers line up for their second NRL season, with a large portion of the Knight’s future pinned on the duo. Both impressed in a struggling forward pack last year, with Daniel particularly impressive up front, averaging over 100 metres a game. The inclusion of experienced forwards Jamie Buhrer, Anthony Tupou and Josh Starling takes a load off the twins, giving them a lot more room to grow in 2017.
Second Year Syndrome: Doubtful
Te Maire Martin
Despite a shoulder injury ending his season after just six games, Te Maire Martin ended his debut season as a Kiwi international and has high expectations ahead of this year. Playing all six of his games with Penrith alongside Jamie Soward, Martin will partner young gun Nathan Cleary in a strong yet youthful Panther’s team. The addition of James Tamou will add more go-forward to the pack, with Martin’s running game to benefit. If Martin and Cleary click, there’s little stopping Penrith on a charge to the Grand Final, that’s if they click.
Second Year Syndrome: Could go either way