Players outside of the Top 30 are now free to be picked to play NRL and there’s some exciting talent knocking on the door of an opportunity.
A few clubs will dive straight into their wider squads this week with train-and-trialer Nu Brown set to make his club debut for the Tigers, while the Roosters are also a chance of handing an NRL debut to workhorse prop Terrell May.
As the season goes on, clubs will start to dip deeper into their playing stocks, just as they did last year.
So who should fans keep an eye on?
Foxsports.com.au has the players either in line for an NRL call up or that are at the very least on the radar for a future debut.
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The club holds Logan Bayliss in high regard after the 22-year-old earned a two-year development through his solid performances for Souths Logan Magpies last season. At 194cm and 97kg, Bayliss cuts an imposing figure and the Broncos are hopeful he will fulfil his potential.
Brendan Frei joined the Broncos’ NRL squad last season on a train-and-trial but tragically suffered an ACL injury in Round 7. He’s back in action now with Broncos feeder club, Norths Devils, and has been impressive in the second row. The 25-year-old has scored five tries in eight games and averaging 116 running metres per game. He also boasts a 97.7 per cent tackle efficiency.
Still only 19-years old, Clay Webb has been one of Canberra’s most consistent performers in NSW Cup and can punch out the full 80 minutes in the second row. The no-nonsense forward had a standout game in Round 5, scoring a double, getting two linebreaks, five tackle busts and 111 running metres as well as making 25 tackles. Webb is also studying a Bachelor of Secondary Education while juggling full time training as a Raiders development player.
Expect to see Jacob Kiraz to be moved back into the NRL side. The 20-year-old became a cult hero to Dogs fans after impressing on debut in Round 7. Kiraz gained an exemption and was brought into the side after several players contracted Covid-19. Despite getting little preparation time he stunned with 137 running metres, 6 tackle busts and 4 offloads — even Benji Marshall said during Fox League’s coverage that Kiraz may just be his new favourite player. Kiraz walked out on a Top 30 deal with the Knights to join the Bulldogs on a train-and-trial deal and the gamble has paid off with the local junior signing a two-year NRL deal earlier this month. That deal, however, starts next season so for now he’s still considered a player outside of the Top 30.
When NRL assistant David Tangata-Toa was handed the reins of the Bulldogs’ NSW Cup side, the first player he called to recruit was Zach Dockar-Clay. The 27-year-old hooker/half has over NSW Cup games under his belt and has also spent time in Queensland Cup and over in the UK. Dockar-Clay has been included in the NRL extended squad twice this season and has leapfrogged Top 30 player Josh Cook as the Cup side’s first-choice hooker.
Kayal Iro is one to keep an eye on. The 22-year-old is the son of Kevin, who played 34 Tests for New Zealand and nephew of Tony, a former Warriors coach. Iro, a former junior Kiwi, came through the Warriors system before joining the Knights’ under 20s squad in 2020. He linked up with the Sharks last season and bounced between NSW Cup and Jersey Flegg. This year he’s emerged as one of Newtown’s most dangerous players averaging 169 running metres and four tackle busts per game. He also sits second overall in the competition for post contact metres. Iro’s most recent performance consisted of a try, three try assists, three linebreaks, one linebreak assist, nine tackle busts and 268 running metres. Iro is predominantly a centre but has spent time on the wing and in the second row.
Titans coach Justin Holbrook has a fair few outside back options but should injuries hit, development player Tony Francis is likely to come into the frame. Francis has been instrumental in Burleigh’s surge to the top of the Queensland Cup ladder, scoring four tries in seven games — including a matchwinner in the 79th minute — as well as averaging 114 running metres and three tackle busts per game.
James Segeyaro told Fox League a couple of weeks ago that he hadn’t had any conversations with Manly coach Des Hasler about an NRL opportunity and declared “If you’re not winning games no one’s going to look at you.” The 31-year-old then came up with his best performance since returning to the field and reportedly earned himself a train-and-trial with the first grade squad. While Lachlan Croker has nailed down the No.9 jersey, Segeyaro has shown Hasler that he is a genuine option while steering the ship reserve grade during stints at hooker and halfback.
Development player Jacob Sykes is certainly on Des Hasler’s radar and has been included extended NRL squad several times this season. Sykes, a prop, s is a product of the Sea Eagles’ Pathways Academy and was named Best and Fairest for Manly’s 2019 Jersey Flegg side.
Bronson Garlick, son of former Rabbitoh and Rooster Sean, is almost certain to earn a long-awaited NRL debut this season after joining the Storm on a development deal. The 26-year-old was in career-best form playing in the second row for Newtown Jets in NSW Cup when he caught the attention of the Storm. His ability to also cover hooker and at a pinch in the halves makes him a solid bench option for Craig Bellamy.
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Local junior Ben Talty has emerged as a real surprise package for the Knights. The 23-year-old can cover prop or second row and has been included in Adam O’Brien’s extended NRL squad a couple of times this season. Newcastle’s NSW Cup coach Mark O’Meley sees him as one of the team’s most reliable players. He’s averaged 121 running metres and 25 tackles per game. Away from the field Talty is just as busy, studying a double degree — a Bachelor of Business and Bachelor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship.
Riley Price — the son of former Queensland and Kangaroos forward, Steve — joined the Cowboys in 2019 and was locked in a development contract last season. The 20-year-old’s first season in Queensland Cup was disrupted after breaking his clavicle in Round 3 last year, but the 188cm, 96kg forward is making up for lost time this season. He averages 83 running metres per game, but his 97 per cent tackle efficiency is what’s been most impressive.
The Eels have got themselves an absolute workhorse in prop/lock Ky Rodwell. Despite being just 22-years old, Rodwell has notched up 48 NSW Cup games over stints with the Bears, Rabbitohs, Magpies and Eels. He’s never looked more at home though than he has this season with the 186cm, 102kg country boy averaging 128 running metres and 34 tackles per game. Rodwell made his debut last season and is expected to be a future member of the Eels’ pack, which is why he was locked up on an extension until the end of 2024.
It would take a fair few injuries for it to happen, but Thomas Jenkins is edging closer to being NRL-ready every week. The 21-year-old Young Cherrypickers junior is currently on a development deal but will move into the Top 30 squad next season. Jenkins has been instrumental in Penrith’s success in reserve grade. He sits equal second on the top tryscorer list (with nine tries in nine games) and averages 106 running metres and three tacklebusts per game on the wing.
Development player Josiah Karapani has bounced between Jersey Flegg NSW Cup this season. He absolutely dominated the under 21s with four tries in three games, while averaging eight tackle busts and 152 running metres in those games. The 20-year-old outside back has also handled the step up to reserve grade well, scoring three tries in five games, while averaging 162 running metres and five tackle busts per game. Karapani joined the Rabbitohs from the Warriors last season and is signed until the end of 2024. Former Blues and Kangaroos star Luke Lewis was taken back by the “unbelievable” Karapani and declared on The Short Side podcast: “I’m pretty confident we’ll see him in first grade in the near future.”
The Rabbitohs have the greatest tryscorer in the game in the current in Alex Johnston and they have another great finisher on the wing coming through in Izaac Thompson. At 26-years old, Thompson is no young gun, but he’s really starting to make his mark this season. He joined the Rabbitohs from the Dragons last year and has scores eight tries in eight games this season — including four tries in Round 9. He’s actually scored 26 tries in total over 28 career NSW Cup games. Thompson has also been averaging 151 running metres and three tackle busts per game.
Versatile forward Jaiyden Hunt made his debut as soon as players outside of the Top 30 could play last season and went on to play three more games in the top grade. The 23-year-old, who is now on a development deal after joining the Dragons on a train-and-trial last season, could come into the mix if injuries hit the squad and wouldn’t look out of place. Hunt has slotted in at prop, second row and lock in NSW Cup this season. While he’s still got a little bit of improvement to go defensively, Hunt has proven to be a handful in attack.
If there’s one player that has been destined for an NRL debut this season it’s North Sydney Bears prop Terrell May. The 23-year-old signed a full time deal earlier this week and is a good chance of making his debut off the bench in the Roosters’ clash with the Panthers on Saturday. May is the younger brother of Tyrone and older brother of Taylan. He also progressed through the Panthers system but joined the Magpies in 2020 before linking up with Manly feeder side, Blacktown Workers, last season and then signing with the Bears for 2022. May trained with the NRL squad over the pre-season and has been a standout in the opening two months of NSW Cup. Bears coach Jason Taylor summed him up as a “total workhorse” and his stats back that up. May averages 170 running metres per game and has made 235 tackles over eight games with just eight misses.
Keep an eye out for imposing front-rower Tuku Hau Tapuha. The 20-year-old Roosters development player got three NRL games last season and is set for more this year. At 196cm and 114kg, Hau Tapuha’s presence has been felt in Cup. He’s scored three tries, while averaging 108 running metres and three tackle busts per game. His Roosters teammate Lachlan Lam believes “the sky is the limit” for Hau Tapuha.
Back-up hooker Ben Marschke is also now available for selection. The 24-year-old has had to bide his time in reserve grade given he’s on a development contract. Now that he’s free to play, Roosters coach Trent Robinson might start looking to use him instead of Drew Hutchison as part of the one-two hooking combination with Connor Watson. Marschke has played close to 80 minutes at hooker in most Cup games this season. He leads the competition in linebreak assists (10) and is fourth in try assists (seven).
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19-year-old twins Kina and Lingi Kepu are destined for big futures with the Warriors. The brothers are locked in on a development deal for this year and will join the Top 30 next season. The powerful forwards have had bounced between Queenlsland Cup and Hastings Deering Colts. It’s understood Nathan Brown intends on taking his time with the duo so it would take quite a few injuries for them to be thrown into NRL just yet but make no mistake they both have a lot to look forward to.
No surprises to see Nu Brown named on the bench for the Tigers this week. The 27-year-old utility made a mid-season switch from the Bears in search of more game time. He played 80 minutes in his first game for the Tigers’ feeder side, Western Suburb Magpies and two weeks later has forced his way into Michael Maguire’s 17.
Fonua Pole could get somegame time later on this season with Magpies coach telling Fox Sports the 19-year-old is a first-grader in the making. Pole won the Tigers’ SG Ball Best and Fairest award last season and joined the NRL squad on a train-and-trial over the Summer. He impressed so much that the club locked him in on a two-year Top 30 deal which begins next season. Despite still being eligible for Jersey Flegg he’s handled the physicality of Cup well.
Austin Dias is a no-nonsens prop that Maguire will likely turn to if injuries hit the forward pack. The 23-year-old, who has played over 30 NSW Cup games, is on a train-and-trial deal and is held in high regard by Magpies coach, Wayne Lambkin.