The Class of 2004 - Editorial

So, who is the best NRL rookie? Due to last year?s player boycott of the Dally M Awards we shall never conclusively know if Billy Slater or Brett Firman was the best 2003 had to offer. But as this season hits the mid-point, there has been an influx of new talent that could have a significant bearing on the futures of a number of NRL clubs. Here is a look at the best to emerge for the future this season.

Notes: Only players with three or less NRL games before 2004 were considered. This is the best five prospects in the opinion of Nicolson Sports Consultancy and do not necessarily reflect other rookies immediate contributions to their teams. We are looking down the track and while we stick by our selections, do not expect everyone to be happy with who was left out.

Karmichael Hunt ? Brisbane Broncos

Fullback/Centre At only 17, Hunt has even the best judges positively ga-ga over his future in the game. The kid just oozes class and confidence and looks to have all the skills. Has been a liability defensively, but at fullback, the Broncos can afford to blood him and let him learn the position from a defensive standpoint. Although far from physically mature, Hunt has excellent speed and agility, which are key in maximizing kick returns. While his support game is promising, it needs work but his passing game is well developed and he has a long (if direct) boot. Quite rightly has been held back from the Origin cauldron for the time being, but there is no question he has the potential to make Darren Lockyer feel quite at home in the pivot role, because Hunt is not going to be pushed out of the custodian role for a long, long time.

Sonny-Bill Williams ? Canterbury Bulldogs

Second Row/Centre

Despite a serious ankle injury keeping Williams on the sidelines, there has not been a better debut this year than the performance he produced in Round 1 against the Eels. For an 18-year-old to physically dominate his opposition in his first game was astonishing, and although playing out of position in the centres there was a lot to like about the strapping Bulldog. His career path is in the back-row and upon being used as an effective bench forward by the Dogs, earned the same role for the ANZAC Test Match for New Zealand. Impressed in his representative debut but only a week later damaged his ankle and has yet to return. What gets your attention is Williams sheers size and strength for such a young man, he has a great turn of speed and has won more than a few wrestling matches with some of the NRL?s best forwards. As he gains experience and learns his role within the team, Williams will become the franchise forward at Canterbury.

Steve Turner ? Melbourne Storm

Fullback/Wing

When the Storm signed this former Penrith lower grader, they did not buy him as insurance for current fullback and Queensland representative Billy Slater. Steve Turner was brought to Melbourne to be their first choice fullback and push the electrifying Slater into the three-quarter line. With Robbie Ross having major injury setbacks in recent seasons, Melbourne were after a genuine fullback and Turner was the best option on the market having come to the realization that he could not oust Rhys Wesser at Penrith. Turner is a classic fullback, smart and safe defensively, extremely quick, skilled and composed. But his greatest asset is his tireless support play which is very much in the mold of the now retired Ross and with the giant Melbourne pack capable of off-loads, the Storm wanted to integrate that strength back into their structure. While just 19, Turner actually made his debut in 2002, and after only a handful of NRL games with the Storm in 2004 ? he is poised to be the next big thing in the #1 jersey south of the border.

Anthony Topou ? Sydney Roosters

Prop

Touted as the next big thing to come out of Bondi, the pressure was certainly on the 21-year-old Newcastle-born prop to meet expectations. Injury cost him a 2003 debut with the club but in a touch of irony, injuries to key props Jason Cayless and Peter Cusack opened the door for Tupou this season. Despite a timid start, he has become Ricky Stuart?s go-to bench prop after a strong performance against the Raiders in Round 8, and has built on that form. There is literally ?a lot? of Tupou to like as he weighs in at 108kg, but his playing weight is way down what it was when he joined the Roosters. As Father-time makes a sweep through the veterans at the Roosters in the coming seasons, Tupou will emerge as a foundation of their pack.

Justin Poore ? St.George-Illawarra Dragons

Prop/Second Row

As featured in Big League this week, Justin Poore was playing park footy as little as 12 months ago and the Dragons faithful are ecstatic he came back to the club. There is nothing flash about the 23 year old who is originally from Perth, but his determined play has earned him a regular first grade birth. Which is no small feat given the depth of talent at the Dragons, but Poore is a working class player, strong in defence and a willing go forward merchant. Although he began in the backrow, injuries to star props Luke Bailey and Jason Ryles have seen him thrust into the engine room and it is there he has proved his worth to the Dragons. If Brent Kite decides to leave the club next season, the Dragons won?t be ?Poorer? for it.

Comments, criticisms, questions etc? [email protected]

Regards, Warrick NICOLSON ========================= Freelance Sports Journalist NICOLSON SPORTS CONSULTANCY Ph: 0402 851 485 Fax: 02 9653 1483 [email protected]