Launching pad: Fringe players set to light up NRL Nines
A son of a rugby league legend, the cousin of an Origin prop, a Matt Bowen clone and a Fijian World Cup flyer - these are the young guns who are set to light up the rugby league Nines.
The tournament has a long tradition of unearthing talent, with the likes of Val Holmes, Kalyn Ponga, Jack Bird, Semi Radradra and Latrell Mitchell all using the Nines format as a launching pad to higher honours.
MATT LOGUE reveals a host of fringe first-graders hoping to make a name for themselves in the shortened version of the game, which kicks off this weekend in Perth.
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BRONCOS: Tesi Niu
The younger cousin of star Brisbane prop David Fifita, Niu has rugby league talent running through his blood lines.
The 18-year-old centre has speed to burn while he is big enough to cause the opposition nightmares in defence.
Niu excelled as a 16-year-old in Souths Logan's Auswide Bank Mal Meninga team before being promoted to the Intrust Super Cup last year.
He has also represented the Queensland under-18s while he played for Tonga against Great Britain last year.
RAIDERS: Harley Smith-Shields
The reigning Canberra Jersey Flegg player of the year is a classy centre blessed with impressive pace and size.
Smith-Shields excelled in the under-20s ranks for the Raiders last season before stepping up to the Canterbury Cup competition.
He immediately impressed, with six tries in just seven games for Mounties.
Smith-Shields is in Canberra's top 30 squad and has an eye on making his NRL debut at some stage in 2020.
BULLDOGS: Jake Averillo
Averillo is one of the most exciting talents seen at Canterbury in recent years.
The versatile talent can play fullback, centre and in the halves but he is best suited in the centres.
Averillo starred in Canterbury's SG Ball side last season with eight tries and 53 goals.
The Moorebank Rams junior has been a member of the Bulldogs' development and pathway programs, while he also spent two years with the club's youth high performance program.
STORM: Cooper Johns
The son of Newcastle legend turned respected commentator, Matthew Johns, has an incredibly bright future in the game.
Cooper has significantly benefited from being in the Storm system under master mentor Craig Bellamy.
Those within Melbourne's ranks believe junior Johns is edging closer to making his NRL debut.
For now, though, Cooper possesses the skills and speed to thrive on the Nines stage.
KNIGHTS: Jirah Momoisea
He has the rugby league world at his giant-sized feet, but Momoisea only started playing footy three years ago.
The South Auckland-born prop grew up playing rugby union and idolising All-Blacks legend Richie McCaw.
Momoisea joined the Knights in 2018 from Melbourne and has proven his worth with barnstorming displays up front.
He played 20 Canterbury Cup games for the Knights last season, scoring two tries and amassing 1771 running metres.
COWBOYS: Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
This 18-year-old Matt Bowen clone at fullback who represented the Australian schoolboys last year has the ability to become a star.
Tabuai-Fidow was snapped up by North Queensland after starring playing rugby union for Brisbane Grammar School in 2017.
After signing with the Cowboys, he returned home to Cairns for a stint with the under-18s Northern Pride side in 2018.
He then moved to Townsville last year to attend Kirwan State High School, and scored 13 tries in just six Mal Meninga Cup games for the Townsville Blackhawks.
Tabuai-Fidow has been promoted to a Cowboys development contract for 2020.
PANTHERS: Daine Laurie
After starring in the lower grades for Penrith, Laurie is ready to prove his worth on the NRL stage.
The 20-year-old utility back claimed the club's Jersey Flegg player of the year award in 2018 as the junior Panthers just fell short of a premiership.
Laurie progressed to Penrith's Jersey Flegg ranks last season while he also played Canterbury Cup.
As a result he has been promoted to the Panthers NRL development list for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
"Daine is blessed with natural ability, reads the game well and has a knack of finding the try line," Penrith recruitment Manager Jim Jones told the club's website.
DRAGONS: Joey Lovodua
This fleet-footed Fijian flyer who represented the Bati at the 2017 World Cup is a talent to watch out for.
Lovodua joined St George Illawarra's development player squad ahead of the 2018 season following several seasons in the Dragons' junior representative pathways.
The local Hurstville United junior has the ability to excel in a host of positions, which would suit the fast-paced style of nines football.
Lovodua was promoted to the Dragons' top 30 squad ahead of the 2020 season after signing a one-year extension.
RABBITOHS: Jaxson Paulo
After failing to progress during his stint at the Gold Coast Titans, Paulo appears to have found his feet with South Sydney.
He joined the Rabbitohs midway through last season and has impressed the coaching staff with his ability and work ethic.
Paulo can play in the centres or on the wing, which will only enhance his chances of making his NRL debut in 2020.
The Nerang Roosters junior who was born in New Zealand weighs in at 101 kilos, so he has the size to match his speed.
ROOSTERS: Asu Kepaoa
Watch for this Kiwi-born outside back to excel on the Nines stage if given the chance.
Kepaoa impressed in the Roosters' Harold Matthews side in 2018 before being elevated to the Jersey Flegg and the Canterbury Cup ranks last season.
He scored five tries and ran for 2347 metres in his 14 Cup appearances for the North Sydney Bears.
Kepaoa is perfectly suited to the Nines given his speed.
TIGERS: Jake Simpkin
Once this kid cracks first grade he will be the Wests Tigers' long-term hooker.
These are the bold claims coming out of Concord about Queensland-born No.9 Jake Simpkin.
Simpkin can't play NRL until round 16 because he is on a development contract, but he is in line for a Nines call-up.
SEA EAGLES: Tevita Funa
A versatile outside back with speed to burn, Funa is one of Manly's most exciting young prospects. The 22-year-old Guildford junior is a strong goal-kicker and was one of the standout players in the Sea Eagles' winning the U20s premiership in 2017.
Funa is enjoying his first season in the NRL squad.
SHARKS: Teig Wilton
The back-rower from Narooma on the NSW south coast has an incredibly bright future.
After excelling in the Sharks' junior ranks, Wilton starred in the Canterbury Cup ranks for Newtown last year as the Jets claimed the NSW premiership and the State Championship double.
He also captained the NSW under-20s last year and his versatility will perfectly suit the Nines format.