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They may be no-names now, but by the end of the season these players could transform into stars of the NRL. Here are the 10 rookies set to make their NRL debut in 2023, with the first three having Kiwi origins.
Wellington-born Katoa was at the centre of a tug-of-war between Penrith and the Dolphins last year. With Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary blocking his path, he opted to join Wayne Bennett on a lucrative deal for a player without NRL experience.
Katoa was banished from Penrith midway through last year after signing with the Dolphins, but returned in the finals series to lead the Panthers to premiership glory in the NSW Cup. Made his international debut for Tonga at the end of the year and showed that he has a long and bright future in the sport.
Position: Back row
Almost got the chance to make his NRL debut last year, but the Roosters decided to hold him back. Wong was impressive in the lower grades in 2022 and showed he belongs on the big stage with an impressive outing for Fiji at the World Cup.
Born in Auckland, Wong is a rugby union product of Sydney’s Scots College. Wong started last season in SG Ball, leading the team to a grand final. He finished the year as one of the best players for the Bears in a disappointing NSW Cup finals campaign before heading over to England for the World Cup.
Raised in Wellington and a former Randwick junior, Oloapu recently signed a four-year deal to link up with the Bulldogs this year following a messy exit from the Brisbane Broncos.
Oloapu is so highly regarded that the Bulldogs forked out a reported $500,000 transfer fee to secure his services for this year. While Kyle Flanagan will be given first crack at the Canterbury No.7 jersey, the teen will join Khaled Rajab pushing for a spot later in the season.
Oloapu, who had been part of Brisbane’s system from the age of 13, refused to train late last year after what he claimed was a series of “broken promises”. New Bulldogs coach Cameron Ciraldo recently convinced him his future was at Belmore.
Canterbury have big expectations of Alamoti, who turned 19 a fortnight ago. The powerful centre is expected to start the season in Ciraldo’s strongest 13.
Alamoti graduated from Kogarah Marist, where he also excelled in basketball and athletics. The Bulldogs have struggled to produce local talent in recent seasons but Alamoti is straight out of local team the Milperra Colts. He’s been a star through all the lower grades, playing for NSW in the under 18’s Origin and also selected in the Australian Schoolboys merit team.
This could be the one that got away for Newcastle. Jonah is the son of former NRL player Troy Pezet. He finished with four try assists for NSW in the under 19’s State of Origin game last year, playing a leading hand in the Blues’ 32-4 win.
Could make his NRL debut during the representative window. A star in the making. Was already contracted to Melbourne for 2023 but recently extended his deal to commit his future to the Storm until the end of 2025.
Another product of Queensland’s Keebra Park State High School. There are high hopes for Mozer to be the club’s long-term No 9. It’s a position the Broncos appear to be short on depth with Billy Walters tipped to start the season at dummy-half.
Some say he’s a throwback to some of the game’s more creative hookers like Robbie Farah and Cameron Smith. While his footy IQ is at a high standard, he still has to improve his physicality. A work in progress but a player with a bright future. Played for Queensland in the under 19’s Origin last year.
Position: Fullback, centre, wing
The Australian Schoolboys star is expected to win one of Penrith’s last remaining top 30 spots in 2023. Everyone at Penrith is talking about the progression of the kid who can play fullback, wing or centre.
He won Penrith’s SG Ball Emerging Talent award last year, scoring a double in the grand final victory over the Roosters. While no one at Penrith wanted to lose Stephen Crichton, they also knew that McLean was coming through the ranks and will be vying for a regular spot in 2024.
His preferred position is fullback but he may have to wait a while judging by the performances of incumbent Dylan Edwards. McLean, a Blacktown and Doonside junior, is tipped to get his debut during the Origin period for the Panthers.
He won’t be able to play in the NRL until his 18th birthday on May 28, but the excitement around the younger brother of Manase Fainu is undeniable. While Josh Schuster will be given first crack at the No 6 jersey following the departure of Kieran Foran, there is pressure from underneath.
Manly knew from a young age that Fainu was destined for the NRL. It’s why they handed him a lucrative four-year deal as a 16-year-old. The Guildford junior is another one from the crop of western Sydney talent the Sea Eagles have snared in recent years.
Feledy struck up a combination with Latu Fainu at Manly, but decided to join the Wests Tigers this year. The Tigers are short on quality outside backs and have identified Feledy as a star of the future.
Unlikely to get time in the NRL the first half of the year, but we know coach Tim Sheens isn’t afraid to throw a teenager into the NRL.
He did it with Chris Lawrence and Benji Marshall and could do it again with Feledy in 2023. Has speed to burn and an attacking game that will excite Tigers fans.
The Dolphins thought they had secured Hassett’s services in a major coup for the NRL’s newcomers. But at the 11th hour Hassett had a change of heart and decided to remain at the Panthers.
Penrith came in late with a revised offer to keep him at the club. While the Panthers have plenty of depth in the forwards, Hassett could come into calculations during the Origin period.
Hassett, a St Marys junior, was part of Penrith’s SG Ball-winning side last year, scoring six tries and racking up 29 tackle busts in 10 games.