AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 30: Nathan Cleary of the Panthers looks on during the round 21 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Penrith Panthers at Mt Smart Stadium on July 30, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

Will second year syndrome strike in 2017?

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?

Nathan Cleary

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

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 01: Ashley Taylor of the Titans runs at the Sharks defence during the round 21 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Cronulla Sharks at Cbus Super Stadium on August 1, 2016 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

Ashley Taylor

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

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – SEPTEMBER 10: Suliasi Vunivalu of the Storm runs away to score his teams first try during the NRL Qualifying Final match between the Melbourne Storm and the North Queensland Cowboys at AAMI Park on September 10, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Suliasi Vunivalu

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.

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Second Year Syndrome: Possible

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 30: Latrell Mitchell of the Roosters dives to score a try during the round 17 NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the Canterbury Bulldogs at Allianz Stadium on June 30, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Latrell Mitchell

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

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 29: Bevan French of the Eels celebrates one of his tries during the round 25 NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Pirtek Stadium on August 29, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Bevan French

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.

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Second Year Syndrome: Likely

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 11: Daniel Saifiti of the Knights is tackled by the Warriors defence during the round 14 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the New Zealand Warriors at Hunter Stadium on June 11, 2016 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

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 of the Panthers runs with the ball during the round seven NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and the Penrith Panthers at Allianz Stadium on April 18, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.

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


  1. Ash Taylor and Nathan Cleary are clear exceptions to this rule. BOTH are exceptional players and rep stars of the future. Mitchell is a talented athlete but needs to say focused and cut down on errors and French is in for a big year IMO but needs to bulk up to avoid getting rag dolled when defending at FB.

    D. Saifiti should also improve on last year and to be fair to Martin he didn’t play enough games on the top grade last year to be considered for second year syndrome.

    • SSTID on congratulate you on your comment “Nathan Cleary’s last name should be blurry. But why would the French need to bulk up. If he gets to fat he will get diseases such as diabetes, cholesterol and a higher risk of cancer. D. Siafiti is a Knights player so he shouldn’t do too much developing out in Newcastle unless he leaves. I do not rate Latrell Mitchell he’ll be a flop like Luke Brooks. Believe that!

    • Not sure what you are basing that on other than saying they are both exceptional players, but that is the whole point of second year syndrome. Players who look like world beaters in their first year and then struggle to live up to expectations in their second year, either through complacency, opposition teams putting them under more pressure, or more often than not, the media building them up too much. Taylor and Cleary, along with French are at most risk I would think, mainly due to the importance of the position that they play.

      The worry I have is that these guys will have good years, but not as good as evreryone expects, then they get labeled with this second year syndrome rubbish, or worse still, the overrated tag. So much pressure gets put on a young guy who has barely had a chance to make his mark that we then sometimes write him off before he actually gets that opportunity.

  2. Looking forward to Titans v Panthers. Young halves Elegy and Taylor v Martin and Cleary will be great but also just looks really good. Hayne V Moylan, Tamou v James

  3. Vunivalu. Impressive player but drove me mad the number of penalties that went in his favour when playing the ball. The guy barely hits the ground in a tackle and he’s putting the ball down to play it before the tackler has a chance to release. Ref’s need to watch this rubbish. Hayne loves doing it too. Rule says you’ve got to stand up and I know a lot of players don’t but vunivalu took it to another level.

    I’d like to see more attacking players pinged in the play the ball. Too many guys don’t play it properly, walk off the mark and put the ball down way to early. Anyone else got an opinion on this?

    • Greggo, I am with you mate 100%.
      it drives me mad watching the play the balls and those playing ball are allowed to walk 2, 3 – 4 metres off where the mark should be and then see the ref blow a penalty for inside the 10.
      Also, those who don’t make much of an effort to actually touch the ball with the aim of getting a fast play the ball.

  4. The only ones on this list that will avoid second year syndrome are Cleary and Taylor. Do not believe that.

  5. I think most of the pressure for second year will be on the halves from last year. Taylor and Cleary i feel will stand up but martin and also bryce from the panthers i fear wont have as big of a year as they did. I think the panthers will be one of the teams fighting for that last ouple of spots in the eight.
    Bevan french is another that may struggle, while undeniably gifted its a very tough position to come into and play well for an entire season. They have hoffman now as cover though so should still be fine for the team.
    The others on this list should be fine.
    Greggo i agree with you completely on the topic of play the balls. Suli was bad for it but the worst for moving off the mark for me was rapana, always moving a steop or 2 forward. I dont know a ouga penalty but should at least be sent back to play it on the mark. Martin tapau seems to be on 1 knee alot when he plays the ball as well which should be penalised.

    • Yeh whilst i get the speed of the game is also in the play the ball, i agree that the refs need to ping this “take two steps forward” BS.
      The tackler should be able to get to his feet and stand his ground as well..

  6. IF any of them get second year syndrome it will be Cleary but the Panthers squad looks good enough to hide/carry him. Only concern for Penrith is quality FG depth around the 9

  7. Nothing I hate more than seeing people use the autism comment as a personal attack, I’ve been using this site for a long time and the ongoing use of insults against eachother others really needs to stop in order for the site to progress as a discussion board.

      • have to agree with the flex, i see the comment removed now but to take a jab using Autism as a spear is BS… i have a couple of mates with kids that have Asperger’s and its a life commitment to get raise kids to get the same advantage in life.

        • This scum bag also had a shot at people with down syndrome which thankfully has also been removed. Hopefully they are now gone for good and there is a clear line drawn in the sand. Trolls have been put on notice their reign of terror and intimidation is over!

  8. I have reported you you troll. We gave you a second chance and this is how you act? Attack people and families with kids who have autism and now down syndrome? You are a DOG mate and I and plenty of others will be asking ZT to make sure you are history!

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