TEN PLAYERS TO WATCH AT THIS WEEKEND’S AUCKLAND NINES
1. LATRELL MITCHELL – SYDNEY ROOSTERS
Tri-colours fans are itching to get their first look at Mitchell in the top grade. Considered the most exciting young talent in the NRL, the 18-year-old is seen as a long-term No.1 for the Roosters but coach Trent Robinson is mindful of not bringing him on too soon.
2. GIDEON GELA-MOSBY – NORTH QUEENSLAND
The Cowboys have a potential superstar on their hands with the fleet-footed winger from the Torres Strait. Last year the former junior sprint champion broke the Under 20s record for most tries in a season – 39.
3. TE MAIRE MARTIN – PENRITH
Compared to a young Benji Marshall, the Junior Kiwis star has pushed Panthers playmakers Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace all the way in pre-season. Penrith fans could hardly believe their luck when they signed Martin from the Wests Tigers and he will be given the chance to steer the side at the Nines.
4. CODY WALKER – SOUTH SYDNEY
The 2013 Queensland Cup player of the year signed with the Rabbitohs in 2015 but was stood down for six months after he was charged with domestic violence offences. He returned midway through last year via the NSW Cup with the North Sydney Bears and will fill in for the suspended Luke Keary in round one.
5. MATT PARCELL – MANLY
Considered one of the best young hookers in Queensland, he helped Ipswich to last year’s Interstate Championship before being snapped up by the Sea Eagles. Parcell is in the running for the Manly No.9 jumper along with Apisai Koroisau, after Matt Ballin’s exit from Brookvale.
6. ASHLEY TAYLOR – GOLD COAST
With Kane Elgey tearing his ACL and due to miss the entire 2016 season, Taylor will partner Tyrone Roberts in the halves. He was named halfback in the 2015 under-20s Cup team of the year and moved down the M1 from the Broncos in search of greater opportunities.
7. BEVAN FRENCH – PARRAMATTA
A relative of Nathan Blacklock and Preston Campbell, the livewire fullback had three rival clubs chasing him before he decided to sign with the Eels. At 20, he is expected to come into his own this year and push for an NRL spot.
8. SHANNON WALKER – GOLD COAST
Walker was hyped as the next big thing after a string of highlight reel moments in the Queensland Cup with Tweed Heads in 2007. But he struggled in first grade, playing four games for the Titans before departing for Rugby Sevens. The super-fast Walker is on a train-and-trial deal with the Titans.
9. CALEB TIMU – BRISBANE
Once ear-marked as the next Gorden Tallis, the second-rower was a star for the Broncos in the under-20s before departing for a two-year Mormon mission. He is confident of bucking the trend of players who struggle to recapture their best form on their return.
10. JOE BURGESS – SYDNEY ROOSTERS
With the departure of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Michael Jennings, the English international is expected to vie for a spot on the wing. Burgess, who has played in the World Club Challenge and English Super League grand final, crossed for 49 tries in three years at Wigan.