NRL class of '16 shows game is in good hands
THERE'S no doubt 2016 has tossed up some future superstars, such as Manly's Tom Trbojevic, Rooster Latrell Mitchell and Penrith's Nathan Cleary, who are all headed for stardom.
With the game's marquee Origin and Test players, headed by Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, only a few years away from retirement, it's a good time to dust off the crystal ball and try to identify some young guns who might dominate the playing fields in years to come.
For mine, young Trbojevic tops the list as the most exciting talent in the game.
This kid can do it all. He reminds me in many ways of a young Darren Lockyer, only at 194cm and 102kg he is bigger and stronger than the former Brisbane, Queensland and Australian captain at a similar age.
Trbojevic has scored 14 tries in his 26 NRL games for the Sea Eagles, mostly playing out of position until recently replacing the injured Brett Stewart at fullback.
Mitchell, who reminds me of another great, Greg Inglis, in a smaller frame, plays in the same position as Trbojevic, meaning rugby league fans will be treated to some wonderful battles for many years between these two hot shots.
From the Taree Red Rovers and named played of the Australian Schoolboys tour of England and France in 2014, Mitchell has played 19 games in his debut season and scored 12 tries.
Cleary is just one of many sons of former NRL players coming through the NRL ranks, and the resemblance between him and his father Ivan is uncanny - from their running and passing to their goalkicking.
The way he has taken over running the Panthers it is hard to believe he is the youngest player in the NRL.
A star in the making at the Melbourne Storm, the Cronulla junior is tall, quick and could play fullback or any outside back position.
A former Australian Schoolboy, plenty of good judges reckon this kid will play Origin for NSW.
Keep an eye out for the young giant who played SG Ball for the Wests Tigers last year. He is still relatively unknown but at a massive 200cm and 120kg - and still growing - this mobile monster will make an impression when he makes his NRL debut with the Tigers.
Brisbane has a big opinion of Souths Logan product Jaydn Su'A. A specialist edge forward, the 19-year-old boasts good footwork, good speed and has a Corey Parker-like offload. He defends like Parker as well.
He is destined for the Broncos back-row with some suggesting he is future Maroons Origin player.
Cowboy giant Coen Hess is a powerful 20-year-old. The Bundaberg junior who moved to Mt Isa can play in the middle or on the edge and has tasted NRL footy.
He is extremely athletic for a big man and can score a try. The Cowboys won't be letting him out of their sight any time soon.
Our final player to watch in the coming years the gifted Kiwi teenager who can play halfback or five-eighth.
Currently playing in the NSW Cup for the Warriors, he has all the skills needed to play at the highest level. Extremely creative and skilful, he was the Warriors' rookie of the year last year at just 18.
Word is once he cracks the Warriors team, they'll never get him out of it.