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Your club's rookie to watch in 2020

Following one of the strongest rookie classes in recent memory, a new batch of emerging players have been earmarked to take the NRL by storm.

The likes of Broncos behemoth Payne Haas, Eels powerhouse Maika Sivo, Cronulla speedster Bronson Xerri and Storm sensation Ryan Papenhuyzen all became household names last year. has selected a relative newcomer from each club with the potential to enjoy similarly spectacular seasons in 2020.

Brisbane Broncos

Xavier Coates

  • Date of birth: March 12, 2001
  • Position: Wing/centre
  • NRL appearances: 3
  • Representative honours: Papua New Guinea (2019), Queensland under 18s (2018, 2019)

Xavier Coates soared onto the NRL scene in round 16 last year when he scored a spectacular try from a kick to help the depleted Broncos claim a famous win against Cronulla.

Coates announces himself in the NRL with a beauty

Before then, the teenager performed well on international debut for Papua New Guinea and was named Man of the Match in Queensland's under 18s victory over New South Wales.

Capable of playing wing, centre or fullback, Coates appears only an injury or form slump away from forcing his way into Brisbane's backline – and he could be hard to displace once he gets there.

Canberra Raiders

Harley Smith-Shields

  • Date of birth: January 12, 2000
  • Position: Centre
  • NRL appearances: Yet to debut
  • Representative honours: Nil

Named the 2019 Jersey Flegg Player of the Year, some unexpected circumstances have catapulted Harley Smith-Shields into centre contention for round one.

Joey Leilua has departed to the Wests Tigers, new recruit Curtis Scott is facing legal problems after an Australia Day incident and young outside back Sebastian Kris hasn't trained this pre-season having been granted extended sick leave.

Smith-Shields will compete with the likes of Michael Oldfield and Andre Niko for a backline spot if Scott becomes unavailable.

Smith-Shields made the leap to Canterbury Cup last year and held his own in seven games, averaging more than 100 metres and scoring six tries.

Canterbury Bulldogs

Brandon Wakeham 

  • Date of Birth: January 11, 1999
  • Position: Halfback/five-eighth
  • NRL appearances: 3
  • Representative honours: Fiji (2019), NSW under 16s (2015)

A long-term shoulder injury to Kieran Foran gives Brandon Wakeham an opportunity to secure a starting role.

The goal-kicking pivot played three NRL matches last year and didn't look out of place, as well as starring in three wins for Fiji to earn a Golden Boot nomination.

Wakeham, 21, has been learning from premiership-winning Bulldogs halfback Brent Sherwin as he looks to earn a spot in the round one team.

Cronulla Sharks

Billy Magoulias

  • Date of birth: January 23, 1997
  • Position: Lock
  • NRL appearances: 2
  • Representative honours: Greece (2018, 2019), NSW under 18s (2015), NSW under 20s (2017)

The skilful Billy Magoulias is set to become a permanent fixture in Cronulla's team after the retirement of the legendary Paul Gallen.

Sharks coach John Morris expects Magoulias, who can also play hooker or five-eighth at a pinch, to share time in the lock position with Jack Williams.

"Billy's an old school, ball-playing middle forward that we don't really see too much in our game, so that's going to really change the way we play," Morris said.

Uncapped prop Toby Rudolf is another to keep an eye on, with the aggressive 24-year-old a big hope of grabbing a bench jersey.

Sharks lock Billy Magoulias.
Sharks lock Billy Magoulias. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Gold Coast Titans

Greg Leleisiuao

  • Date of birth: April 4, 1997
  • Position: Wing
  • NRL appearances: Yet to debut
  • Representative honours: Junior Kiwis (2016, 2017)

An ex-Titans under 20s star who played for the club at the 2016 Auckland Nines, Greg Leleisiuao has returned to the Gold Coast after three years at Parramatta.

The destructive winger would likely have debuted already but for ill-timed injuries and an elite Eels backline ahead of him.

He made the 2019 Canterbury Cup NSW Team of the Year having caused carnage in Wentworthville's grand final charge, leading the league for tackle breaks and post-contact metres and scoring 12 tries.

Manly Sea Eagles

Luke Metcalf

  • Date of birth: March 1, 1999
  • Position: Halfback/Five-eighth
  • NRL appearances: Yet to debut
  • Representative honours: NSW under 18s (2017), NSW under 16s (2015)

Not afraid to take the line on and blessed with speed, an NRL debut looks within reach for fit-again half Luke Metcalf.

The junior Sharks gun played just two Canterbury Cup NSW games last year due to a knee injury but he's trained well this pre-season, with teammate Reuben Garrick describing Metcalf as "electric".

Dylan Walker is set to start as Daly Cherry-Evans's halves partner but Metcalf can apply pressure with some strong reserve grade efforts.

Manly have another promising playmaker in Josh Schuster, a skilful, big-bodied teenager who plays back-row as well as five-eighth. Schuster is currently on a development deal.

Melbourne Storm

Nicho Hynes

  • Date of birth: June 18, 1996
  • Position: Fullback/Five-eighth/Centre
  • NRL appearances: 1
  • Representative honours: Nil

Having impressed in his NRL debut last season, Nicho Hynes wants to bed down a bench utility position.

Hynes has trained at fullback, centre and in the halves over the summer and looks in line for regular game time. 

"Getting a taste has definitely left me wanting more for sure ...  I'm just really, really hungry," Hynes told

Storm outside back Nicho Hynes.
Storm outside back Nicho Hynes. ©Paul Barkley/NRL Photos

New Zealand Warriors

Josh Curran

  • Date of birth: June 10, 1999
  • Position: Lock/second-row
  • NRL appearances: 3
  • Representative honours: Australian Schoolboys (2016), NSW under 20s (2018), NSW under 18s (2017), NSW under 16s (2015)

After leaving the Roosters' nest midway through 2019 in search of opportunity, headgeared back-rower Josh Curran is aiming to cement a regular place at the Warriors.

Curran finished last year on the bench for his new club, running for 60 metres and making 20 tackles in a round-25 win over eventual grand finalists Canberra.

The 20-year-old has received a call-up to the Indigenous All Stars team and that experience could be the springboard for a consistent NRL campaign.

Newcastle Knights

Bradman Best

  • Date of birth: August 9, 2001
  • Position: Centre
  • NRL appearances: 3
  • Representative honours: Australian Schoolboys (2018), NSW under 16s (2017), NSW under 18s (2018, 2019)

Long considered a future star thanks to his incredible junior exploits, Bradman Best proved he's NRL standard at the end of last season.

He averaged 91 metres and scored a try in three matches, with the solidly-built back expected to start at left centre this year.

Elsewhere, talented playmaker Phoenix Crossland is among the candidates to partner Mitchell Pearce in the halves.

North Queensland Cowboys

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow

  • Date of birth: September 5, 2001
  • Position: Fullback
  • NRL appearances: Yet to debut
  • Representative honours: Australian Schoolboys (2019), Queensland under 18s (2019)

Still only 18, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow is already being tipped for a huge future after impressing over the pre-season.

An exceptionally smooth mover with serious pace, Tabuai-Fidow prefers to play fullback – a role that Valentine Holmes looks to have locked down – but he can also perform on the wing or at centre.

The Townsville Blackhawks junior is currently on a Cowboys development contract, meaning he can't play first-grade without an exemption until after June 30 unless his deal is upgraded.

Parramatta Eels

Stefano Utoikamanu

  • Date of Birth: May 15, 2000
  • Position: Prop
  • NRL appearances: Yet to debut
  • Representative honours: NSW under 20s (2019), NSW under 18s (2018), Australian Secondary Schools under 15s (2015)

Unfortunately for Parramatta, they'll only get to enjoy Stefano Utoikamanu's services this year before the devastating prop joins Wests Tigers.

Ranked among the best up-and-coming forwards, Utoikamanu was upgraded to a top-30 NRL deal in January, seemingly indicating an Eels debut isn't far away.

The 19-year-old, who is listed as weighing 115kg, cut his teeth with Wentworthville in the Canterbury Cup NSW last season where he averaged 94 metres per game and tackled at a 92% efficiency rate.

Young Eels prop Stefano Utoikamanu.
Young Eels prop Stefano Utoikamanu. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

Penrith Panthers

Spencer Leniu

  • Date of birth: September 8, 2000
  • Position: Prop
  • NRL appearances: 5
  • Representative honours: Australian Schoolboys (2017), NSW under 20s (2019), NSW under 18s (2018)

While technically not a rookie under the Dally M criteria having played five NRL games off the bench last season, teenage mountain Spencer Leniu is primed for a breakout year.

A junior star, Leniu made a statement in a win on first-grade debut against Cronulla when he dumped Sharks champion Paul Gallen in a strong tackle.

Leniu, who has drawn comparisons to 2019 Dally M Rookie of the Year Payne Haas, could push for a starting spot at Penrith after the departure of Reagan Campbell-Gillard.

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Tom Amone

  • Date of birth: December 19, 1996
  • Position: Prop/lock
  • NRL appearances: 5
  • Representative honours: Junior Kiwis (2016), Australian Schoolboys (2014), NSW Residents (2019)

With Souths a touch light on forwards after losing Sam Burgess, John Sutton (both retired) and George Burgess (Wigan), the hardworking Tom Amone has a golden chance to cement himself in the top grade.

Included in the 2018 Intrust Super Premiership Team of the Year while at the Sea Eagles, Amone moved to the Rabbitohs last season and played a handful of NRL games off the bench.

A strong defender who possesses a big motor, Amone won't shirk his task if coach Wayne Bennett uses him more frequently.

St George Illawarra Dragons

Jason Saab

  • Date of birth: October 8, 2000
  • Position: Wing
  • NRL appearances: 3
  • Representative honours: Australian Schoolboys (2018), NSW under 20s (2019), NSW under 18s (2018)

At 199cm and 101kg, 19-year-old Jason Saab will provide size and strength for the Dragons, not to mention being a perfect kick target.

A rule change stipulating that defenders can't tackle attacking players in mid-air should make Saab a lethal aerial weapon.

Saab impressed in three NRL starts in 2019, bagging a double on debut against the Rabbitohs before injury cut his season slightly short.

Sydney Roosters

Egan Butcher

  • Date of birth: August 5, 2000
  • Position: Second-row
  • NRL appearances: Yet to debut
  • Representative honours: NSW under 18s (2018), NSW under 16s (2016)

Rated highly by the Roosters, Egan Butcher is poised to join his older brother Nat in the NRL sooner than later.

Butcher's progress was stalled by a knee injury in 2019, limiting him to six Canterbury Cup NSW games in which he averaged 30 tackles.

A solid, mobile back-rower who runs a good line and boasts ball-playing ability, Butcher faces a challenge to break into first grade but many top judges believe he has the talent to excel once he does.

Wests Tigers

Tommy Talau

  • Date of birth: April 3, 2000
  • Position: Centre/five-eighth
  • NRL appearances: 1
  • Representative honours: Australian Schoolboys (2018), NSW under 18s (2018) 

Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire saw enough in Tommy Talau's NRL debut in a losing cause against Manly last year to declare "there are no reasons why he can't have a really long time in first grade".

Also able to play five-eighth, the son of former Bulldog Willie Talau is among the centre contenders in a strong Tigers backline.

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