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Who’s blossomed? The 2023 NRL Rookie of the Year contenders – an updated Top 10

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NRL Rookie of the Year contenders, 2023

2023 NRL Rookie of the Year contenders — here’s an updated Top 10

The tumultuous State of Origin period is over at last and the focus shifts. Finals footy is on the mind for most, but also a slice of history for a field of NRL novices. The competition for NRL Rookie of the Year honours is so hot, only a Top 10 contenders list and a spicy winner prediction will suffice.

The 2023 NRL season has produced a unique class of rookies; junior prodigies, to rugby union converts and “elder” journeymen vying for an opportunity. We have been blessed with a vast spectrum of stories. 

The parameters for qualification haven’t changed; the player must be in their first season of NRL competition or have played a maximum of five NRL or Super League games over the preceding two years. 

CHECK OUT LAST YEAR’S NRL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CLASS

The opening 19 weeks of competition has given insight into key contenders, but eight weeks is plenty of time for a dark horse to shoot out in front. 

So considering what’s been and potential impact to come, who takes the mantle from 2022 NRL Rookie of the Year winner Jeremiah Nanai? Let’s countdown 2023’s Top 10 NRL Rookie of the Year contenders! 

NRL Rookie of the Year 2022, Jeremiah Nanai
2022 NRL Rookie of the Year, Jeremiah Nanai | Who takes his mantle in 2023?

2023 NRL Rookie of the Year contenders

10. Tom Hazelton (Cronulla Sharks)

Forward | 25 in February

One for the grafters, big Tom has been a hit with Sharks fans in 2023 and a real success story from the interchange bench. Hazelton knows only one direction; his power post-contact and dogged approach have resulted in genuine impact during limited minutes. At 24-years-old his best is yet to come. If his form trajectory from the past 12 months continues; he could become a regular starter for the Sharks in the not too distant future. 

Post-Round 19 Key Stats – 11 games, 2 tries, 12 tackle busts, 74 avg metres in 21 avg minutes, 94% tackle efficiency

Review our 2023 breakout guide – how did we do?

9. Valynce Te Whare (Dolphins)

Centre | 23 in September

No 2023 rookie has made a lasting impression in such a short amount of time like Te Whare. The bulldozing ex-rugby union convert embarrassed Cronulla’s right edge with a brace of tries on debut, and later usurped NRL veteran Brenko Lee to take a starting centre position. Constant reshuffling of the Dolphins back five could result in inconsistent game time for the cult hero on the run home, but you can bet he’ll delight the Phins faithful again before the season is out.

Post-Round 19 Key Stats – 7 games, 4 tries, 25 tackle busts, 132 avg run metres per start

Valynce Te Whare shines on debut | NRL Rookie of the Year contenders, 2023

8. Brendan Hands (Parramatta Eels)

Hooker | 24 in December

A try on debut in Parramatta’s Grand Final rematch against Penrith in Round 4 had Eels fans demanding Hands take starting honours. Over the following 10 weeks he improved the Eels direction in attack with every injection into the contest, before eventually taking over from Josh Hodgson when injury struck. A tough, no nonsense dummy half, it’s no coincidence their revival in form aligns with his increase in minutes. Hands complements Parramatta’s dominant halves perfectly and will be instrumental in their 2023 finals push.

Post-Round 19 Key Stats – 14 games, 36 avg tackles per start, 93% tackle efficiency

7. Isaiya Katoa (Dolphins)

Half | 20 in February

The Dolphins have exceeded expectations thus far in 2023 with Katoa’s steady hand in the halves a telling factor. We have seen glimpses of this talented 19-year-old’s true potential, but it’s his maturity to play within himself and patiently learn his trade that impresses most. Katoa is an exciting prospect who under Wayne Bennett has the perfect opportunity to set the foundations for a long and successful career.

Post-Round 19 Key Stats – 16 games, 6 try assists, 10 forced drop-outs, 261 avg kick metres

NRL Pre-Season, 2023, NRL Rookie of the Year
Sunia Turuva (far left) has lived up to the pre-season hype | 2023 NRL Rookie of the Year contenders

6. Sunia Turuva (Penrith Panthers)

Winger | 21 in September

Deputising on the wing for 2022 rookie sensation Taylan May, Sunia and the Panthers’ left edge haven’t missed a beat this season. The robust Fijian international possesses explosive lateral movement, pace off the mark, and in true Panthers fashion makes tough yardage from his own half. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Turuva is relegated to reserve grade after his class exhibited this season.

Post-Round 19 Key Stats – 16 games, 5 tries, 76 tackle busts, 168 avg run metres

5. Zac Hosking (Penrith Panthers)

Backrower | 27 in February

Unwanted by Brisbane where he debuted in 2022 and his hometown Newcastle where he wished to return – the 26-year old “veteran” rookie has finally found a home in Penrith. For those privy to his reserve grade performances, his immediate impact at NRL level came as no surprise. A damaging hole-runner and tireless worker, Hosking is undoubtedly NRL standard and will push for a starting position in a Panthers side aiming for three titles on the trot.

Post-Round 19 Key Stats – 13 games, 3 tries, 13 offloads, 29 tackle busts, 34 avg tackles, 95.7% tackle efficiency 

NRL Rookie of the Year, 2023 rookies, Zac Hosking
2023 NRL rookies | Penrith backrower Zac Hosking | NRL Rookie of the Year Top 10

4. Will Warbrick (Melbourne Storm)

Winger | 26 in March

An Olympic silver medalist, Warbrick entered his debut season a massive talking-point as pundits questioned whether his Rugby 7’s success would transfer to the NRL. It took a few weeks for the big Kiwi to find his feet, but he has looked every bit a first grade footballer ever since. Warbrick’s long, athletic build and experience also representing New Zealand in Australian Rules football make him the ideal aerial threat. Combined with speed, agility and a hunger to cross the tryline; the Storm have another rising star on their hands.

Post-Round 19 Key Stats – 16 games, 11 tries, 14 line breaks, 33 tackle busts, 136 avg metres

3. Jahream Bula (Wests Tigers)

Fullback | 22 in January

Thrust into the volatile Wests Tigers fullback role, Bula looks destined to become the first player to cement this position since James Tedesco in 2017. From a magical in-goal escape, to a try-saving tackle on Nathan Cleary and a monster fend on Tino Fa’asuamaleaui; Jahream has been sensational in a poor side and already provided several special moments in his fledgling NRL career. He stacks-up as the complete package and has rightfully gifted Tigers fans a renewed sense of optimism.

Post-Round 19 Key Stats – 10 games, 3 tries, 4 try assists, 12 offloads, 37 tackle busts, 184 avg run metres

2023 NRL Rookie of the Year contenders, Jahream Bula
Tigers rookie Jahream Bula | 2023 NRL Rookie of the Year contenders

2. Alofiana Khan-Pereira (Gold Coast Titans)

Winger | 22 in November

Nothing beats speed and this kid has it in spades! Already staking a claim as the quickest set of heels in the competition; Khan-Pereira has been lightning on the left wing for the Titans, averaging a try per game in 2023. He is far from a one-trick pony though, his penchant for pin-point kicks over covering defenders and crisp left-to-right passing creates a supremely dangerous proposition for opposition defences.

His 2022 Queensland Cup highlights tape is wild.

Post-Round 19 Key Stats – 15 games, 15 tries, 20 line breaks, 122 avg run metres

1. Jacob Preston (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)

Backrower | 22 in October

For consecutive seasons we’re tipping a dynamic edge back rower to claim Rookie of the Year honours. Preston immediately looked equipped for the rigours of NRL footy; registering a try, four tackle-busts, 116 metres and 39 tackles in his first start as the Bulldogs upset Melbourne in Round 2. He has maintained this standard throughout the season with his hostile, tenacious charges creating a constant threat – especially close to the line. Incredibly, his defence is even better, refusing to let his attitude slip in a side that’s leaked the most points in the competition. Canterbury were quick to re-sign Preston for a further four seasons, a move no one is questioning as he is destined for representative honours.

Post-Round 19 Key Stats – 17 games, 5 tries, 8 line breaks, 31 tackle busts, 37 avg tackles, 95.6% tackle efficiency

NRL breakout players, Jacob Preston, 2023 NRL Rookie of the Year
Jacob Preston (middle) was a headliner in our 2023 Breakouts Guide | Preston leads the race to claim NRL Rookie of the Year honours for 2023
Picture of Mat Barnes
Mat Barnes
A self-confessed sports nerd who would spit the dummy as a kid on family beach days so he could stay home to watch the cricket - Mat has lived and breathed sport his entire life. Following a three year stint as a Sports Statistician with Fox Sports Australia, he has since enjoyed an extended period in the golf industry helping grow the game he has loved since he was a kid. While Mat loves golf amongst many other sports and codes, his passion for the NRL and the Newcastle Knights is borderline obsessive!

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2 Responses

  1. Zac Hosking was very much wanted by the broncos but he would have been behind a few others – Riki, Capewell, Piakura for a spot in the backrow, Penrith offered him more money than the broncos could

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