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More than 50 names now sit in our updated 2023 NRL breakout guide; sleepers & emerging stars

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NRL breakout players, Jacob Preston

-Phil Prior & Ely Corliss | NRL breakout players, 2023

March is when footy hype hits overdrive and there’s no question the early action has justified strong anticipation. The games have been great, the stars are performing.

But as competition rises and the salary cap squeezes, NRL breakout players become vital to successful premiership campaigns.

‘The next big thing’ is always a focal point for active Fantasy, SuperCoach and NRLCEO players, not to mention rugby league’s hardcore fans that want nothing more than to see the rookies and rising stars begin breaking through and emerge.

^^ From NRL breakout players to the absolute cream of the crop

When it comes to identifying breakout players, there are several key signals to pay close attention to; junior path and representative milestones, current age, media hype and the club’s commitment. It’s never just one of those, but a combination.

Sometimes, though, if a club has already signed a young gun – that mightn’t have even played first grade yet – to a four or five year deal, that’s about all you need to know. Clearly there’s something worth committing to.

With that all said, mark down this URL and keep clicking back – we’ll keep updating it. Our NRL breakout players guide will be staying up to date with the interesting and emerging talent at every club. There’s nothing better than watching the next big thing become the thing… and the stories they have to tell.

Which rookies and risers will be NRL breakout players in 2023?

–> Who’s set up to succeed?

–> Who’s in the breakout conversation?

–> Who’s getting buzz and are they ready?

Brisbane Broncos

Ezra Mam | Half | 20 | Signed through 2024

Mam’s 2022 season was good enough to leave a grey area as to whether the breakout has already taken place. The 2021 Intrust Cup Rookie of the Year made the most of his opportunities as Adam Reynolds’ partner last season; even the first choice option at certain stages in Reynolds’ absence. He was out of his depth in certain circumstances, understandably, but given Brisbane’s unstable hooker situation and questionable coaching ranks, could Mam have realistically shown any more promise in his rookie season? 

VERDICT: He’s been in Brisbane’s pathways program since he was 13; the club has invested plenty and he’ll continue returning the favour.

NRL breakout players Ezra Mam & Xavier Willison
NRL breakout players guide | Ezra Mam (left) & Xavier Willison (right)

Blake Mozer | Hooker | 18 | Signed through 2025

Mozer is one of only six rostered Broncos that’s contracted beyond 2024, which is telling. Talent is no question here, but the teenager still has plenty of growing up to do. Hooker is famously a position that sees development happen slower, too; generally clubs are cognisant of unleashing smaller frames into the most physical part of the field. 

VERDICT: While the club is quite infamously dealing with an ambiguous cast of characters at dummy half right now – Billy Walters, Corey Paix, Tyson Smoothy – it’s unlikely Mozer is ready to take over this season. 

Xavier Willison | Forward | 21 in August | Signed through 2025

Willison may have only played four NRL games in his career, but the 6’2 second rower has shown serious potential. So far he has an outstanding tackle efficiency of 98% with solid attacking numbers. After making his debut in round 20 of 2021 against the Cowboys, Willison unfortunately suffered an ACL injury towards the end of the year and only managed the solo game last season. 

VERDICT: The starting edge positions are already locked up by representative talent, leaving only a spot on the bench likely for now. Needs an injury.

Brendan Piakura | Forward | 21 in May | Signed through 2024

Paikura is another talented emerging Broncos forward who has only tallied the two first grade games so far in his career. The second rower is coming off the back of an impressive Q-Cup season with Norths Devils and will be looking to transfer that red-hot form into Brisbane’s season if given a chance.

VERDICT: It will be tough for Piakura to crack the regular 17 on game days but around Origin time when many Broncos forwards are unavailable he will most likely get a shot.

Canberra Raiders

Xavier Savage | Fullback | 21 in April | Signed through 2025

You could argue Xavier Savage already had his breakout season last year but 2023 could further cement him as a top class fullback in the NRL. Savage’s season will unfortunately be delayed; fracturing his jaw in the Raiders first trial match against the Bulldogs in Moruya.

VERDICT: There’s no doubt Savage is a walk on starting fullback for the Raiders and will only be limited by his injuries in 2023. All signs pointed to him rising to another level, but his injury could leave him slightly behind the eight-ball.

Harley Smith-Shields | Centre | 23 | Signed through 2024

A nasty broken jaw for Raiders fullback Xavier Savage has created plenty of changes in Canberra’s back five, including the re-introduction of ACT product Harley Smith-Shields. The 23-year-old enters this season having played only nine NRL games; coming off the back of a year away from an ACL reco.

VERDICT: With changes expected all season in the back five positions, Smith-Shields could easily end up playing over ten first-grade matches this year for the Raiders.

Trey Mooney | Middle Forward | 21 in May | Signed through 2024

All reports suggest that Trey Mooney is ready for first grade. The questions are more around coach Ricky Stuart’s tendency to bring young players along slowly, particularly forwards adjusting to the immense physical toll of the NRL arena’s middle third. He’s a hard-running lock that captioned Canberra’s SG Ball lineup and the numbers are very enticing.

VERDICT: It’s when, not if. But the departure of Adam Elliott means there’s a role to be filled in the starting pack…

NRL breakout players Xavier Savage & Trey Mooney
NRL breakout players guide | Xavier Savage (left) & Trey Mooney (right)

Ata Mariota | Prop | 22 in December | Signed through 2024

Ata Mariota is primed for the top grade after debuting last year, but the questions are around his opportunity. Mariota was named in the NSW Cup Team of the Year; leading the way for the Raiders side in that competition. 

VERDICT: With so many representative forwards on the green machine’s list it’ll be a challenge to break in and stay there, but he’s definitely got what it takes.

Canterbury Bulldogs 

Paul Alamoti | Centre | 19 | Signed through 2024

Alamoti is a name to remember as the teenager looks destined for success in the NRL… even though he hasn’t debuted yet. The damaging centre had an incredible 2022 season in the NSW Cup and has started this season with the kind of form that’s pointing towards inclusion in the NRL breakout players list later in the year. 

VERDICT: The Bulldogs are light on for experienced, hardened centres and Alamoti’s getting his chance.Stand by for takeoff.

Jacob Preston | Edge Forward | 22 in October | Signed through 2024

Preston’s swift emergence to start 2023 has caught plenty by surprise. In the space of a fortnight, he’s gone from a depth option to the team’s right edge starter and a strike weapon. VERDICT: The Belrose junior is already a decent size for a forward in their early 20s; he looks ready to handle the rigours of NRL footy. The breakout may well be happening right before our eyes.

Hayze Perham | Utility Back | 24 in July | Signed through 2024

Perham’s generating pre-season buzz through news he’s been training as the group’s first choice fullback. It’s noteworthy that he’s potentially ahead of Jake Averillo in the pecking order, who had a solid end of the season last year. Perham played six games in 2022 for the Eels before making the move to Belmore.

VERDICT: Talent’s never been the concern with Perham, it’s overcoming injuries and putting it all together. He has a massive opportunity to grow into this role and start living up to the promise.

Karl Oloapu | Half, can play Lock | 18 | Signed through 2026

Oloapu exited the Broncos on disgruntled terms, keen to progress towards a first grade debut in blue and white. Those in the know believe the hard-hitting Oloapu could mold from a half into a ball-playing lock as he matures, capable of filling a variety of positions. 

VERDICT: A proper NRL breakout in 2023 seems more like a longer shot; limited first grade experience would be a promising milestone for the 18-year-old. The Bulldogs paid a $500,000 transfer fee to bring him down from Brisbane, so the investment in this young gun should lead to an opportunity sooner rather than later. 

Jackson Topine | Forward | 22 in August | Signed through 2024

An exciting young prospect is now reaching a junction point in his career. Topine has now accumulated 11 first grade caps the last two seasons, but his junior milestones suggest this guy is capable of much more than forgetful bench rotation production. He was the SG Ball Player of the Year in 2019, captioned the NSW u18’s side and played Australian Schoolboys too. 

VERDICT: A player of that promise should realistically be putting pressure on the Max Kings and Ryan Suttons of the world. It’s time to see it.

Dolphins

Isaiya Katoa | Five-Eighth | 19 in February | Signed through 2025

Katoa has been touted as the next big thing and an absolute steal for the Dolphins inaugural season in the NRL. Coming from the Panthers, Katoa has learnt from Origin halves combination in Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary and could be even more dangerous after a summer off in the World Cup representing Tonga. 

VERDICT: His Round 1 selection over Anthony Milford came somewhat as a shock, but Katoa already looks ahead of schedule. He’s so far finding answers to plenty of tests and is playing with more time than a teenaged half in the NRL should. What a recruitment.

Valynce Te Whare | Centre | 22 | Signed through 2024

Targeted from rugby in New Zealand, Te Whare learned League last year in Redcliffe, breaking through for a spot in the Queensland Cup Team of the Year. His physique is reminiscent of former Warriors and Titans wrecking ball Konrad Hurrell, who’s now with St Helens in the Super League. It’s reasonable to expect that his sharp rise in development continues as 2023 unfolds. 

VERDICT: Keep an eye out

Mason Teague | Lock | 18 | Mutual option 2025

For 2023, the Dolphins have signed another Penrith junior to partner with Isaiya Katoa in Teague. The lock forward captained the Panthers SG Ball team to a premiership in 2022 and has been developing in the best current NRL system. 

VERDICT: Give Teague some time to learn under the veterans that have been brought in for the club’s inaugural season. His Round 2 debut off the bench certainly looked promising; the work-rate was wild.

North Queensland Cowboys

Heilum Luki | Edge Forward | 22 in April | Player option 2025

Luki was positioned to garner increasing attention down the stretch in 2022, but his season reached a brutal end, tearing his ACL in Round 14. The hulking edge could’ve made a name for himself, but the emergence of Jeremiah Nanai has so far overshadowed his twin tower counterpart. It’s kept a lid on this breakout candidate. 

VERDICT: Expect Luki to keep building into a player that commands opposition attention as the season matures.

cowboys images
NRL breakout players guide | Heilum Luki (left) & Tom Chester (right)

Tom Chester | Utility back | 22 in May | Signed through 2024

Chester is coming off a solid season for the Townsville Blackhawks in the Queensland Cup and managed to grab his NRL debut in 2022. The fullback is one of many young players at the Cowboys that has helped revive the North Queensland spirit and will be hoping for more opportunities this year. He finds himself behind Scott Drinkwater for the starting number one jersey and would need to set the Q Cup on fire if he were to steal that spot. 

VERDICT: Will shoot for the Cowboys’ 14 role, but will need to be far more patient for a regular starting 13 chance. Gets his chance with Scott Drinkwater suspended.

St George-Illawarra Dragons

Tyrell Sloan | Fullback | 21 in June | Signed through 2024

Sloan has shown plenty of raw potential, but frankly hasn’t had the greatest opportunities under coach Anthony Griffin. Sloan will have his best chance to become an established first grader; predicted to be the starting fullback come round one. With Cody Ramsey out for the season, the coaching staff will be forced to pick a few rising stars, rather than lean on purely experienced and ‘reliable’ players, as they have infamously been doing under Griffin. 

VERDICT: He absolutely has what it takes, but don’t get your hopes up for a breakout season in this environment, sadly. 

Jayden ‘Bud’ Sullivan | Back/Utility | 22 in September | Signed through 2025

Entering his fourth year in the NRL, Bud Sullivan has gradually gained more opportunities at the Dragons. Last season the utility played nine games, scoring two tries, but struggled to make metres in his limited appearances. 

VERDICT: The Dragons team is up in the air at the moment for 2023, so there’s the same likelihood of him playing round one as there is with him starting his season around Origin time.

Parramatta Eels

J’Maine Hopgood | 24 in May | Lock | Signed through 2024

We’ll look back on the 2023 season and question why Hopgood didn’t search for greener pastures sooner. There’s no shame in being stuck at Penrith behind Isiah Yeo, currently the best lock in football, but the forward was starved of deserving opportunities.

VERDICT: Don’t put it past Hopgood to not only emerge as a head-turning NRL forward, but potentially even play himself into the Origin conversation. Think the Reuben Cotter 2022 arc.

Will Penisini | Centre | 21 in July | Signed through 2025

A good friend of footballing prodigy Joseph Sua’ali’i, Penisini also has the rugby league world at his feet. He played on Parramatta’s ‘weak’ attacking edge last season and spent the year becoming increasingly reliable.

VERDICT: It’s time Penisini takes another big step forward and becomes one of Parramatta’s strike players.

NRL breakout players Will Penisini and J'Maine Hopgood
NRL breakout players guide | Will Penisini (left) & J’Maine Hopgood (right)

Newcastle Knights

Lachlan Miller | 29 in August | Fullback | Signed through 2025

Clearly not your classic breakout candidate, but Newcastle traded away a very promising young front rower – Max Bradbury – for Miller’s services. And they have Miller on a three-year deal. That speaks volumes for the club’s plans for him, as they go all-in on making Kalyn Ponga’s halves transition a successful one. 

VERDICT: Miller is a speedy, hard-working fullback type that’s been handed literally every opportunity to make his move from rugby union a successful one. The stage is set for a really nice year.

Greg Marzhew | Wing | 26 in April | Signed through 2025

Marzhew was involved in an off-season trade with the Titans, which should clear his path towards locking down an NRL wing. His attacking prowess has never been in question; the workrate through his carries is faultless.

VERDICT: The coaches will be doing everything to ensure Marzhew can become a reliable contributor on both sides of the ball. If he can, look out.

Krystian Mapapalangi | Centre-Half | 21 in November | Signed through 2024

Mapapalangi was blooded twice at NRL level last season and the signs were great. He’ll be waiting in the wings, with Ponga, Bradman Best and Dane Gagai ahead of him in the pecking order. But should a long-term injury provide the well-built back an opportunity, he’s up to it.

VERDICT: Needs an injury ahead of him to gain relevancy for this year, but has also himself started the season dealing with ailments.

NRL breakout players guide | Not a bad first touch in the big leagues for Krystian Mapapalangi

Penrith Panthers

Soni Luke | Hooker | 26 | Coming off contract

He may be older than most of the players on this list but Soni Luke is on the cusp of establishing himself in the competition after the departure of Api Koroisau from the Panthers. Luke is predicted to play the utility/back up hooker role for Penrith with Mitch Kenny promoted to the starting nine jersey.

VERDICT: He’s been in the system for long enough to not skip a beat in the NRL side and could prove to be vital in the absence of Koroisau.

Sunia Turuva | Outside Back | 21 in September | Signed through 2024

He’d played in more Rugby League World Cup games than NRL games coming into 2023, but there’s no doubt Sunia Turuva belongs in the top grade. He’s locking down the left wing for Penrith and it’s his to own in 2023 – Taylan May’s ruled out due to an ACL injury – and is owning it.

VERDICT: Against the Rabbitohs before the Round 3 bye, the Fijian international ran for more metres than any other Panther, including elite worker Brian To’o. Get ready for a lot more of that.

Zac Hosking | Edge Forward | 25 | Signed through 2024

One of the most underrated signings for 2023 is Penrith acquiring Zac Hosking from the Brisbane Broncos. The edge back rower made his debut last year and totalled four first grade games where he showed serious potential on both attack and defence. With Kikau leaving for the Bulldogs, there’s an edge position up for grabs but premiership winner Scott Sorensen is tipped to fill the void and new recruit Luke Garner to be a secondary option.

VERDICT: Will have to be patient and smash the door down in NSW Cup before an opportunity presents.

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Lachlan Ilias | Halfback | 23 in May | Signed through 2025

It was always going to be tough to fill the shoes of Adam Reynolds at Souths, but Ilias did as good of a job as any rookie could’ve in 2022. 

VERDICT: Now with a full NRL season under the belt, the Sydney local is primed to take more of the load and ensure the Rabbitohs put together another deep finals run.

Davvy Moale | Middle Forward | 20 in March | Signed through 2025

Moale had a solid season last year playing 12 games off the bench. He proved rock solid in defence with a 94% tackle efficiency and averaged over 60 metres a game. From all reports, the club have high hopes.

VERDICT: Moale is still a teenager, so while becoming a future representative player is on the radar, he’s probably not ready to be a consistent starter… yet.

NRL breakout players guide | Davvy Moale (left) & Terrell Kalo Kalo (right)

Isaiah Tass | Centre | 24 in August | Signed through 2024

Isaiah Tass stood up for South Sydney in his debut season after the club lost Queensland representative player Dane Gagai. There’s no reason to think he won’t develop further in 2023. While in and out of the lineup in his first NRL season, he averaged 135 metres a game and his contribution will only grow. 

VERDICT: Tass’ goal for the year will definitely be locking up that left centre spot and finding his way over the tryline more often, after just three in his maiden season. The early signs this year are promising.

Sydney Roosters

Joseph Sua’ali’i | Outside Back | 20 in August | Player option 2024

Sua’ali’i has the left centre spot locked down this year and after a 2022 season that saw him starting to live up to the lofty hype, he’s ready to become a star.

VERDICT: Easy yes

Egan Butcher | Edge Forward | 23 in August | Signed through 2025

Entering his third season in the league, Egan Butcher is set to take a giant leap as a breakout star in a stacked Roosters lineup. With regular starting edge backrower Sitili Tupouniua out indefinitely with a knee injury, Butcher will pair alongside his brother Nat in the 2nd row.

VERDICT: Seems in line for plenty of action throughout 2023.

Siua Wong | Edge Forward | 20 in April | Signed through 2024

Following the high school and junior representative footsteps of Angus Crichton, Wong is every bit the prospect his fellow edge backrow predecessor once was. Progressing to 10 straight 80-minute NSW Cup games the back half of last year, Wong is a strong-running forward with a healthy workrate. While Crichton is currently taking time away from the game, the club has an embarrassment of riches in the backrow, so the only question marks this season are opportunity, which he keeps developing and acclimatising to the top level.

VERDICT: Don’t discount an emergence as the season matures.

NRL breakout players Siua Wong and Joseph Sua'ali'i
NRL breakout players guide | Siua Wong (left) & Joseph Sua’ali’i (right)

Manly Sea Eagles

Josh Schuster | Half-Forward | 22 in May | Signed through 2024

There will be a lot of expectation on Schuster in 2023 with the young gun getting his first real crack at playing in the halves. Previously we have seen him play on the edge but struggle to stay fit or get selected week in and week out. Rumour has it that he’s dropped 15kg in the off season and is looking in the best shape he’s been in since playing for Manly so if that’s the case then expect Schuster to light it up this season.

Kelma Tuilagi | Edge Forward | 24 | Signed through 2025

Tuilagi had his chances at the Tigers in 2022; his first full season in the top grade. He may well have been a victim of coaching drama and selection uncertainty at Concord, but certainly passes the eye test as a hard-running loose forward. Absolutely meets the NRL breakout players criteria.

VERDICT: Greener pastures on the Northern Beaches could be the move that elevates Tuilagi into a consistent and dominant 80-minute prospect.

NRL breakout players guide | Kelma Tuilagi look fit and fierce on Manly’s right edge

Kaeo Weekes | Fullback | 21 | Off contract at season end

He only managed three NRL games in his debut season last year but really impressed the competition’s community with his Preseason Challenge performances more recently. In Manly’s first game against the Bulldogs, Weekes appeared off the bench and made an impact.

VERDICT: Will need injuries to be considered with the NRL breakout players this season, but his appearances playing the 14 role for the Sea Eagles so far have offered glimpses into the immense talent.

Taniela Paseka | Prop | 26 in October | Signed through 2024

Paseka has made it clear he wants to have a big 2023 and has started off on the right foot, running for over 180 metres in Manly’s victory over the Bulldogs. Although he’s entering his sixth season in the NRL, he is still yet to establish himself as a serious threat.

VERDICT: It’s possible Paseka’s biggest career hurdle so far has been understanding just how destructive he could become, as Manly’s lead middle enforcer. The early signs this season have been good, but consistency is now the key. Perhaps new coach Anthony Seibold is slowly unlocking it.

Cronulla Sharks

Kayal Iro | Outside back | 22 | Signed through 2024

Iro showed a bit of something across the pre-season, but he’ll be waiting in the wings of a stacked Cronulla backline. Already into his early 20s, this speedy prospect needs to have another dominant NSW Cup campaign to start putting pressure on the selection committee. He was awarded the NSW Cup Player of the Year in 2022.

VERDICT: A few things need to fall into place before there’s any likelihood of a first grade emergence. If he smashes the door down from reserve grade, his best bet is forcing coach Craig Fitzgibbon to consider moving Siosifa Talakai back into the pack.

Melbourne Storm

Trent Loiero | Forward | 21 | Signed through 2025

The Queenslander plays with an imposing 6’4, 105kg frame. Loiera has been a solid contributor when called upon since his debut game in 2021. Melbourne need guys emerging after losing both starting edge forwards to the Dolphins and he is right in the hunt to lock down one of those spots.

VERDICT: Loiero appears set to start on the left edge, pending what happens with Tariq Sims. Playing next to Cam Munster has always been a recipe for attacking success. He’s right in the conversation for NRL breakout players in 2023.

NRL breakout players 2023

Eliesa Katoa | Edge Forward | 23 | Signed through 2024

Already at 46 NRL caps, plenty of good judges believe it will be coach Bellamy and the Storm system that translates this exciting product into a gun footballer. If the Melbourne program can’t, nothing will. It means an important year looms. 

VERDICT: Optimistic

NRL breakout players Eliesa Katoa and Jack Howarth
NRL breakout players guide | Eliesa Katoa (left) & Jack Howarth (right)

Jack Howarth | Centre-Backrower | 21 in October | Signed through 2027

The contract tells you all you need to know. Howarth played Australian Schoolboys in 2019 and has represented Queensland at u19s level since then. He’s capable on an edge or at centre and is spoken about as one of the brightest young prospects in the game.

VERDICT: The hype kicked off a year ago and while it didn’t eventuate to an NRL debut in 2022, how much longer can coach Craig Bellamy keep a lid on him? 

Joe Chan | Edge Forward | 21 in March | Mutual Option 2025

Remember Alex Chan? Joe’s his son, recruited from Catalans in the Super League. The young 6’3, 95kg forward currently has a two-year window to rise the Melbourne ranks. The club is obviously handing the keys over to younger players after the departure of three experienced starters to the Dolphins. 

VERDICT: Chan has the bloodlines to emerge, but some stiff competition to deal with. Most likely fighting for a spot on the bench.

Jonah Pezet | Half | 20 | Signed through 2025

Pezet looked electric on debut, making the absolute most of an opportunity in Cam Munster’s absence. Pezet tallied a try, shooting through a gap, plus a try assist via crisp ball-playing. The emergence adds up, after starring for NSW in the u19’s Origin clash last season. 

VERDICT: The Melbourne half comes from good stock, his dad Troy played 28 first-grade games in the 90s. All signs are pointing to a future where the rugby league world is saying, ‘so the Storm have found another one.’

NRL breakout players 2023 | Jonah Pezet

Wests Tigers

Fonua Pole | Forward | 21 in June | Signed through 2025

Pole extended for two more seasons late last year, indicating the club’s interest in his emergence. He displayed workhorse credentials right from the jump in 2022; debuting in Round 16 and taking no time in turning heads. Pole earned the club’s Rookie of the Year honours last season. He has also been sighted playing some edge forward through the trials, which can’t hurt his prospects.

VERDICT: Competition for spots in the Tigers’ sneaky impressive forward pack is red hot, but he may well only be an injury away from figuring prominently.

Justin Matamua | Lock | 20 in May | Signed through 2024

The Tigers have bold plans in mind for Matamua, who has already showed this pre-season that it’s not just his ball-playing style that can add a dimension to this side; he’s shown he can handle a high defensive workrate. Matamua is a large-framed middle, yet five-eighth isn’t beyond him either.

VERDICT: A genuine smokey for the starting lock spot. Otherwise, keep a close eye out.

NRL breakout players guide | Justin Matamua with the offload

Gold Coast Titans

Tanah Boyd | Halfback | 23 in July | Signed through 2024

In a huge confidence boost for the young halfback, Tanah Boyd has reportedly been given the nod to start the season in the Gold Coast number seven jersey. 12 months ago it was Toby Sexton who was given that responsibility but once he let it go, Boyd made that position his own. He’ll be partnering with veteran half Keiran Foran which can only make Tanah a better half himself.

Jojo Fifita | Outside Back | 20 | Signed through 2025

In 2022 the Titans found a second Fifita to add to their young core of players and this one has the potential to be as damaging. Jojo Fifita debuted late last year on the wing and hit the ground running (literally), averaging 122 metres a match. The Titans should show faith in Fifita and keep him in the side for all of 2023 but you never really know what coach Justin Holbrook is going to do next.

Alofi’ana Khan-Pereira | Wing | 22 in November | Off contract 2023

Khan-Pereira’s coming off a 25-try campaign for Burleigh in the Queensland Cup. The flyer appears to be in the fight for a starting spot on a Titans’ flank, with his uncertain future enough to potentially light even more of a fuse.

VERDICT: He’s doing more than enough to hold down his spot on the left wing. It’s happening.

NRL breakout players 2023

Iszac Fa’asuamaleaui | Forward | 22 | Signed through 2025

Iszac Fa’asuamaleaui just made his NRL debut alongside brother and Titans captain Tino. His older brother has conceded that Iszac is the better of the two; an incredibly scary thought for the rest of the league but thrilling for Gold Coast fans.

VERDICT: Most likely won’t play many games early, but you can see a world where by mid-season he starts to carve out a regular rotational role.

New Zealand Warriors

Luke Metcalf | Fullback-Half | 24 in March | Signed through 2024

He’s bounced around a few clubs in his short career but maybe the Warriors will be where we see just how special Luke Metcalf is. The utility has played only seven games so far for three tries. He still finds himself behind a few spine players at the Warriors but if their poor form spills in 2023 there’s all the likelihood that Metcalf will get a chance.

Viliami Vailea | Centre | 21 in November | Signed through 2025

It is clear to see where Viliami Vailea got his destructive running from with the rugby union export putting it on display in his short career in the NRL. Vailea grew up in Tonga playing rugby but ended up playing reserve grade league for Redcliffe. He managed 12 games in 2022 scoring seven tries and is predicted to be starting in the centres for the Warriors in their round one clash with the Knights.

Ronald Volkman | Half | 21 in July | Signed through 2025

Sydney-born Volkman crossed the ditch a year ago, moving on from the Roosters’ system despite an eye-catching trial appearance for the tri-colours against Canberra. He’s a Bankstown junior with Samoan and German heritage, managing two NRL games last season including his debut. While the right-footer has several half options ahead of him at the Warriors, time is on Volkman’s side. 

VERDICT: It’s unlikely to be this season unless injury strikes, but he could well be the club’s longer term solution when the Shaun Johnson retirement comes. Volkman has reportedly started the NSW Cup season on fire.

Taine Tuaupiki | Fullback | 24 in August | Off contract 2023

The rise has come a fraction later than normal outside back timelines, but it’s been a big 12 months for Tuaupiki. He had some nice touches on debut in Round 3, coming in for Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (concussion). While born in Sydney, he’s a north island native and is quite literally playing for his future without the security of a longer-term deal. But there’s little question Tuaupiki was worth a flyer, coming off his decorated Queensland Cup season, winning not just Rookie of the Year but also the Petero Civoniceva Medal as the comp’s best-and-fairest. 

VERDICT: He was upgraded to the Warriors’ 30 after a train and trial; absolutely trending in the right direction.

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