General NRL’s 2021 breakout stars: The young talent to watch at your club

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Apr 2, 2015
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NRL’s 2021 breakout stars: The young talent to watch at your club
We look at each NRL club’s up-and-coming players and analyse which members of Generation Next will become stars of the future.
Fatima Kdouh, Chris Honnery, James Phelps, Dean Ritchie, Paul Crawley and Nick Campton
November 21, 2020 - 11:47AM
News Corp Australia Sports Newsroom


Generation Next has arrived.
As NRL clubs finetune with their rosters ahead of the next premiership campaign, a host of young guns are ready to step up and make their mark on the competition.
Rising stars Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Jordan Riki, Cody Ramsay and Jaxson Paulo are just some of the young guns who were on development contracts in 2020 and there are plenty more ready to roll off the production line.
We look at each club’s up-and-coming players and analyse the NRL’s future stars.

BULLDOGS
Matt Doorey

Age: 20
Height: 185cm
Weight: 100kg
Position: Backrow
Has already featured in the NRL and is expected to again be used this year. Doorey has been with the Bulldogs since 2018 and left a big impression when he got his top-grade opportunity this year. At the very least, he will push for a spot on the bench. — JP

PANTHERS
Daine Laurie

Age: 21
Height: 181cm
Weight: 83kg
Position: Wing
Laurie has played top grade and will push for a spot this year — whether it’s at the Panthers or the Tigers. The winger has signed for the Tigers in 2022 but could find himself at Concord a year ahead of schedule should he be able to secure a release. — JP

Daine Laurie in action for the Panthers in round 20 of the 2020 season. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images


Daine Laurie in action for the Panthers in round 20 of the 2020 season. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

EELS
Sam Hughes

Age: 19
Height: 193cm
Weight: 111kg
Position: Prop
This Cronulla junior was poached from under the noses of the Sharks in 2017 and has been making huge strides at the Eels. Hughes cuts an imposing figure and along with David Hollis could be the Eels starting props of the future. Mobile and possesses a large motor for someone his size. Expect the under-16s and under-18s NSW Blues forward to feature in Brad Arthur’s 21-man squad at some stage next season. — FK
Nathaniel Roache
Age: 24
Height: 180cm
Weight: 94kg
Position: Hooker
With 26 NRL games under his belt, Roache is a bargain basement signing for the Eels given he has joined on a development contract. Mainly used as a utility off the bench at the Warriors but his development was hampered by a series of injuries that included a back injury which ruled him out of the 2018 season. The Eels have also added Joey Lussick, another hooker, from Salford in the English Super League. — FK

David Hollis
Age: 20
Height: 195cm
Weight: 110kg
Position: Prop
Represented NSW at under-16s and under-18s and impressed Eels officials with his work ethic. Along with teenager Sam Hughes, Hollis continues to rise through the grades as the Eels look to replace Kane Evans and Stefano Utoikamanu. Look for the Wauchope junior to be in the frame for NRL selection in the latter part of next season to provide back-up for Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard. With his hulking frame and ability to bend the line, Hollis has drawn comparisons with the likes of Newcastle prop and former Eels junior David Klemmer. — FK

David Hollis scores for NSW during the Under 18 Queensland V NSW State of Origin game. Picture: Adam Head


David Hollis scores for NSW during the Under 18 Queensland V NSW State of Origin game. Picture: Adam Head

KNIGHTS
Nathanael “Simi” Sasagi

Age: 19
Height: 185cm
Weight: 94kg
Position: Five-eighth
The Kiwi-born half who featured in Newcastle’s Nines side earlier this year scored four tries in his only appearance for the Knights’ Jersey Flegg side last year. Bradman Best also scored four tries in the match and has since gone on to become one of the best young players in the game. A back injury – comparable to that suffered by Eels half Dylan Brown – meant he played just that one game last year and little football in 2020. The Knights took up a two-year option this year to keep him at the club until at least 2022. — MC

BRONCOS
TESI NIU

Age: 19
Height: 177cm
Weight: 90kg
Position: Centre/ fullback
Touted as the next Broncos fullback sensation and likened to club great Darren Lockyer.
Despite links this year with the Titans, Niu will be at the Broncos until at least the end of 2021 after playing six NRL games for them this season. Niu came on to the scene when he played for the Australian Schoolboys squad in 2018 and made his international debut for Tonga the next year, earning plaudits. With the departure of Jack Bird, Darius Boyd and Jordan Kahu (unsigned), Niu can make a play for a starting spot in the Broncos backline in 2021. – CH

JORDAN RIKI
Age: 20
Height: 190cm
Weight: 106kg
Position: Second row
With the loss of barnstorming backrower David Fifita to the Titans, the Broncos have a player-in-waiting to fill his spot. In his five NRL appearances off the bench in 2020, he scored a try and ran 222 metres. The club has had their eye on the Kiwi product for several years, having signed him as a 15-year-old and flying him from New Zealand several times a year to have him train at Red Hill. Riki was expected to make his NRL debut sooner but he suffered knee and ankle injuries during 2020. Coaching staff have been impressed by his work ethic and eagerness. — CH

Could Jordan Riki be the man to fill David Fifita’s role on an edge at the Broncos? Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images


Could Jordan Riki be the man to fill David Fifita’s role on an edge at the Broncos? Picture: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

RABBITOHS
BROCK GARDNER

Age: 20
Height: 186cm
Weight: 99kg
Position: Second row
A Newcastle junior who has hardly played a game in two years, but all reports are the young backrower who turns 21 in January is ready to step up in 2021. A former captain for the Knights in Harold Matthews and SG Ball, Gardner represented NSW at under-16 level before he moved to Souths. But his troubles started two years ago when he suffered a foot injury that wiped him out for the 2019 season, then along came COVID, which meant he didn’t play this past season either. What he did do was use the time to hit the gym, pumping himself up by 8kg. He is now pushing 99kg and ready to challenge the big boys for a spot in the top grade.
Has been upgraded from a development contract to the main squad but the Rabbitohs do have some strong competition in the forwards, so Gardner has a huge job ahead of him. — PC

JAXSON PAULO
Age: 21
Height: 192cm
Weight: 101kg
Position: Winger
Signed with Souths midway through 2019 from Gold Coast and we all saw at the back end of 2020 why this former New Zealand under-19 representative is a star of the future. Big and athletic, Paulo also showed he has plenty of courage to back up his natural flair and the challenge now will be to keep himself in the top squad when all the big guns are back from injury and fighting for starting spots in 2021. Coach Wayne Bennett will have Alex Johnston and Dane Gagai as the first-choice wingers when everyone’s fit, but Paulo is actually more suited to playing in the centres or even fullback, which gives him the versatility that so often leads to opportunity. — PC

The fastest player at the Sea Eagles: Tolu Koula.


The fastest player at the Sea Eagles: Tolu Koula.

SEA EAGLES
Tolu Koula

Age: 18
Height: 183cm
Weight: 93kg
Position: Fullback/centre
Scored a brilliant solo try in a Manly’s SG Ball game this year against Canterbury where he chip-kicked over the defence 15m from the Bulldogs tryline and caught the ball on the full ahead of the Dogs fullback to score. Rated the fastest player at Manly — by a long way — after being signed at age 15 from schoolboy rugby union. Played in the winning 2017 Harold Matthews grand final and was then selected in the NSW under-16s. “He is a brilliantly fast and skilful player,” Manly recruitment manager Scott Fulton said. “Very powerful, too.”
Some even believe Koula could play NRL towards the back-end of next season. — DR
Kaeo Weekes
Age: 19
Height: 183cm
Weight: 95kg
Position: Halfback/fullback
Signed by Manly from Asquith when just 14 years old and was quickly placed in the club’s junior development program. Played in Manly’s Harold Matthews side — which reached the 2016 grand final — before representing NSW under-17s at age 16. “He is extremely fast, very skilful, has a good kicking game and is a strong defender.,” Manly recruitment manager Scott Fulton said. “Behind Tolu Koula, he would be the quickest in the club.” Good judges are tipping Weekes to crack first grade in 2022. Captained Manly’s SG Ball side this season. — DR

WESTS TIGERS
Jock Madden

Age: 20
Height: 180cm
Weight: 82kg
Position: Half
A former Australian Schoolboys star, Madden has been elevated into the top squad as Luke Brook’s understudy. Joined the club in 2019 on a development contract. A traditional No. 7, Madden is not expected to play five-eighth with Josh Reynolds and Adam Doueihi fighting it out to partner Brooks.

Kane Bradley
Age: 20
Height: 196cm
Weight: 101kg
Position: Wing/Second row
This St George junior is on the cusp of NRL after a stunning positional transition. Brought over to the Tigers as an edge backrower, the towering timber is now a winger in the mould of Daniel Tupou. Still a work in progress, he is not expected to play NRL next year but his utility value could see him push his way into the line-up. — JP

Rising Wests Tigers hooker Jake Simpkin. Photo: Wests Tigers


Rising Wests Tigers hooker Jake Simpkin. Photo: Wests Tigers

Jake Simpkin
Age: 19
Height: 181cm
Weight: 91kg
Position: Hooker
Expected to be catapulted into the starting line-up for the start of the Tigers’ 2021 season. Considered to be the next big thing in Queensland behind Harry Grant, Simpkin has already been anointed as the Tigers’ next long-term No. 9 and could start ahead of Jacob Liddle. — JP
Zac Cini
Age: 20
Height: 189cm
Weight: 91kg
Position: Centre/Wing
The Panthers junior has been promoted into the full-time squad after earning a development contract in 2019. A former Australian schoolboy who played alongside Tommy Talua and Jock Madden, Cini is a centre who can also play backrow. Not likely to push his way into the NRL until the back half of the year. — JP

DRAGONS
Max Feagai

Age: 19
Height: 186cm
Weight: 98kg
Position: Centre/wing
The first of the twin brothers to play first grade, Feagai appeared in the Dragons’ final two matches of the season and his workrate has him set to play a much bigger role in 2020. Feagai played alongside twin Mathew and fellow development graduate Jayden Sullivan in Illawarra’s SG Ball premiership season in 2019 with the brothers combining for a match-winning display in the preliminary final against Parramatta. “Both of them have a real robust style, good upper body strength and good late feet at the line,” Steelers SG Ball coach Ben Linde said.” — NC

Mathew Feagai
Age: 19
Height: 186cm
Weight: 98kg
Position: Centre/wing
While the twins are similar in style, they’re not identical. “I’ve always struggled to tell them apart unless they’re on other sides of the field, but Max more plays in the centres, he’s a little bit slighter but not by much,” Steelers SG Ball coach Ben Linde said. “Matty can jump, so that’s why we put him on the wing. Max’s carries out the backfield were outstanding, and Matty’s were similar but that’s one of the few ways I can separate them. “One really works hard out of the back of the field and the other is a tremendous finisher.” Mathew is yet to make his NRL debut but is expected to play a major part in the Dragons plans for 2021 and partnered his brother on the wings for the 2019 Australian Schoolboys side in a 36-20 win over New Zealand. — NC

St George Illawarra identical twins Max (left) and Mat Feagai. SUPPLIED


St George Illawarra identical twins Max (left) and Mat Feagai. SUPPLIED

Jayden Sullivan
Age: 19
Height: 174cm
Weight: 80kg
Position: Five-eighth
We caught a little of his potential in his NRL debut against Melbourne in Round 20 — the Port Kembla junior set up a try and made 26 tackles without a miss. Even though he’s still a bantamweight, there were some qualities on show that can’t be taught. “I thought his courage, and the way he straightened and squared up the line really stood out,” Steelers SG Ball coach Ben Linde said. “One of the Melbourne forwards got him with a really good shot, it wasn’t late or anything but they got him, and he got up after that and continued to take the line on.
“He’s going to put the armour on his body that he needs, but that courage, that team-first mentality, it’s really hard to coach that into somebody and he’s got that in spades.” — NC

Cody Ramsey
Age: 20
Height: 185cm
Weight: 82kg
Position: Wing/fullback
One of the few bright spots in a tough season for the Dragons, scoring a double on debut against the Raiders in Round 18 and playing the final three games of the NRL season. The Molong junior played most of his junior football as a fullback but earning a spot on the wing seems his best route to first grade for 2021 after Matt Dufty’s improvement this year. — NC

ROOSTERS
Sam Walker

Age: 18
Height: 182cm
Weight: 80kg* (approximate)
Position: Halfback
The most highly touted junior to come through the ranks in years, Walker only turned 18 in June but is already seen as the Roosters’ long-term halfback.“ He’s a competitor but he always backs himself,” said Tony Adam, who coached Walker in the Australian Schoolboys in 2019. “What I saw throughout the juniors was his instinctiveness: he’d see a chance and he’d go for it. I think the rule changes will suit him. He’s got good acceleration, that bit of footwork, the passing game on both sides. Once he gets confident with organising the side, which comes with experience and exposure to that higher level.” — NC

Sam Walker will be a long-term investment by the Roosters. Picture: Grant Trouville/NRL Photos


Sam Walker will be a long-term investment by the Roosters. Picture: Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

CRONULLA SHARKS
Kyle Paterson

Age: 21
Height: 178cm
Weight: 83kg
Position: Hooker
A former Queensland under-19s representative, Paterson joined Cronulla from Canberra last year. The talented rake played a crucial role in steering Canberra to the 2019 Jersey Flegg grand final, scoring 13 tries and accumulating 17 try assists in 21 matches. Quick off the mark and sharp around the ruck, Patterson will operate as a back-up for Blayke Brailey. — NC
COWBOYS
HAMISO TABUAI-FIDOW

Age: 19
Height: 186cm
Weight: 89kg
Position: Fullback/ winger
Nicknamed “The Hammer”, he showed glimpses in 2020 of his blistering speed and ability to wreak havoc on opposition defensive lines. The Cowboys first spotted his freakish talent in 2017 when he played rugby union for Brisbane Grammar School. After he got a taste of the NRL this year, expect to see a lot more of him in 2021. – CH

BEN CONDON
Age: 20
Height: 196cm
Weight: 109kg
Position: Second row
The towering forward was a standout for the Blackhawks Under-20 squad before signing a Cowboys development contract for 2020. He came through the Cowboys Rockhampton Academy before packing his bags for Townsville in 2017 and barnstormed his way through the 2019 Hastings Deerings Colts season. Another of the Cowboys debutants this season, Condon has been rewarded for his efforts with a spot in the top squad for next season. With the loss of Gavin Cooper and John Asiata, Condon’s ability to play in the middle or on the edge will see him become a valuable asset. — CH

Wiremu Greig brings plenty of bulk to the NRL. Picture: Stewart Mclean


Wiremu Greig brings plenty of bulk to the NRL. Picture: Stewart Mclean

WIREMU GREIG
Age: 21
Height: 192cm
Weight: 124kg
Position: Prop
At 124kg, Greig is 7kg heavier than his North Queensland teammate Jason Taumalolo and even heavier than Parramatta powerhouse Junior Paulo. Snapped up by North Queensland as a 17-year-old after dominating in the 2017 New Zealand Rugby League National Championships. He then played for Cowboys feeder clubs Northern Pride (U20s) and the Blackhawks before making his Queensland Cup debut in the 2019 season. Despite not playing an NRL game this year, Greig is a useful big body that the Cowboys will be looking to use in the near future. But a host of big-name forwards and the signing of Lachlan Burr means Greig faces plenty of competition for a starting spot. — CH

STORM
Jack Howarth

Age: 18
Height: 193cm
Weight: 105kg
Position: Edge forward
Just 18 but regarded so highly he has been elevated to the top 30. Having come through the Queensland GPS system, Howarth knocked back the Queensland Reds and Wallabies to stick with the Storm. Howarth’s highlight reel is an impressive display of deft hands, footwork and tough defence. Melbourne’s general manager of football Frank Ponissi said Howarth would not be rushed into the NRL side. “He’s a centre or backrower and he did the pre-season with us last year and did well. He’s been playing both union and league but he’s a rugby league kid at heart.” He’s played representative football for Australia Schoolboys and Queensland under-18s. — FK
Trent Loiero
Age: 19
Height: 192
Weight: 104
Position: 2nd row
Another of Melbourne’s boom forward pack waiting for a crack at NRL. The Kawana Dolphins junior is a towering backrower who isn’t afraid to go looking for big hit in defence. Loiero is still on a development contract but football manager Frank Ponissi said the youngster could find himself in Craig Bellamy’s 17 during season 2021.
“His family home was only a kilometre away from Twin Waters resort where we were staying, but he was based with us the whole time, which has put him in good stead. He’ll play with Falcons next year.” — FK

Dean Ieremia
Age: 19
Height: 179cm
Weight: 91kg
Position: Fullback/wing
He’s already been compared with the likes of Israel Folau through his athletic prowess, footwork and speed, which he showed at the Nines last January. The teenager is also on track to becoming just the second born-and-raised Victorian to play for the Storm (behind Mahe Fonua). “Dean only played the odd scrimmage game this year but he’s a player that we think in a couple of years could be something special,” football boss Frank Ponissi said. — FK

Trent Loiero is a rare Victorian talent set to play for the Melbourne Storm.


Trent Loiero is a rare Victorian talent set to play for the Melbourne Storm.

Judda Turahui
Age: 19
Height: 187cm
Weight: 104kg
Position: Yet to play (formerly rugby union)
Football head honcho Frank Ponissi doesn’t know where Turahui’s best position is yet but says the Kiwi teenager is talented enough to make his NRL debut next season. Turahui is still learning the game having been poached from the rugby union nursery of The King’s School in Auckland. He was initially earmarked as a centre but with his growing frame he could end up in the forward pack. “We picked him up on our scholarship program. He’s still raw to the game of rugby league because he’s mainly got a rugby union background.” — FK

WARRIORS
Paul Turner

Age: 20
Height: 180cm
Weight: 94kg
Position: Five-eighth
Warriors scout Peter O’Sullivan likens him to Anthony Mundine for his ability to sneak through the line and skip his way around defenders. “He’s got a lot of athletic similarities to Choc,” O’Sullivan said. “He can do things in the game that nobody else in our club can do. But he has to get all the small things in learning the game, his talk and those areas.
“He is our go to if Kodi Nikorima gets injured but we’d also like to take a look at him in the centres at some stage as well.” Turner, from Whangarei, made his NRL debut in round 15 this season, making a line break and seven tackle busts. — FK

Rocco Berry
Age: 19
Height: 191cm
Weight: 97kg
Position: Fullback
Turned his back on Super Rugby’s Hurricanes to ink a four-year deal with the Warriors.
The son of former All Blacks player Marty Berry made a name for himself in rugby as a skilful running fullback with a long stride, but he is likely to start out wide in the NRL.
“He’s bred well and it’s a matter of when he plays first grade and not if,” O’Sullivan said.
Berry played just one reserve game before a stress fracture to his back forced him out. “He would have played last year except for that injury,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s a running player so I expect him to play centre or wing for us.” — FK

Tom Ale is another Warrior with a rugby union background. Picture: Phil Walter/Getty Images


Tom Ale is another Warrior with a rugby union background. Picture: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Tom Ale
Age: 21
Height: 183cm
Weight: 108kg
Position: Prop
Made his NRL debut in round 19 against Canberra as a development player but has been upgraded into the top 30 for 2021. He spent most of his junior years coming through the rugby system in New Zealand and was even part of the Chiefs’ under-18s side. Likened to Cowboys powerhouse Jason Taumalolo for his hard running and tackle-breaking, Ale must improve his fitness to increase his chances of becoming a regular first-grader. “He has lovely feet and legs at the line,” O’Sullivan said. “He has an offload in his game and can beat people. But he’s still got some improvements to find to help get him a better motor,” O’Sullivan said. — FK

TITANS
JAIMIN JOLLIFFE

Age: 24
Height: 187cm
Weight: 108kg
Position: Prop
Became a Titans regular this season after impressing coach Justin Holbrook with his workrate in the middle. It’s been quite a journey for the NSW product, who spent three years at the Newtown Jets in the Canterbury Cup competition before lured north 12 months ago on a train-an-trial contract. His pre-season performance earned him a spot on the bench in the opening round of 2020 and with a host of big-name forwards – Jai Arrow, Ryan James, Shannon Boyd and Bryce Cartwright – gone, Jolliffe should hold on to a regular spot. — CH
TOBY SEXTON
Age: 19
Height: 179cm
Weight: 85kg
Position: Halfback
An Australian Schoolboys star and a future NRL playmaker. The Titans signed him on a three-year deal in 2019 when he was still at Palm Beach Currumbin high school. He’s gone on to represent the Australian Schoolboys, the Queensland U18s and was a member of the premiership-winning Tweed Seagulls Under-18 side that claimed the Mal Meninga Cup and the National Under-18 title against Illawarra. While the Titans have Ash Taylor and Jamal Fogarty forming a nice partnership in the halves. Sexton and fellow Gold Coast product and halfback Tanah Boyd are the next wave of talent coming through for spots in the NRL squad. – CH

CANBERRA RAIDERS
Matt Timoko

Age: 20
Height: 185cm
Weight: 95kg
Position: Centre
Canberra’s depth in the outside backs was tested to the limit in 2020 but the knock-on effect could be the rise of the likes of Timoko. The young Kiwi played two first-grade games this season, including the stirring Round 20 win over the Sharks, impressing with his speed and footwork. Timoko first turned heads in the NRL Nines and is in contention to fill in for the injured Jarrod Croker in the early rounds of 2020 alongside fellow young gun Harley Smith-Shields. — NC

Adam Cook
Age: 20
Height: 182cm
Weight: 86kg
Position: Fullback
Came from nowhere to make his NRL debut in Round 20 last year. It was quite a jump — Cook had spent 2019 with the Townsville Blackhawks but did not play a Queensland Cup game, spending the entire season with their Colts side. The Townsville junior claimed player of the year honours before joining the Raiders on a train-and-trial deal. Cook played much of his junior football in the halves but played his first NRL game at fullback. His versatility puts him in the frame to back up a number of Canberra’s biggest names. — NC
 

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