Six World Cup players hoping to make their NRL debut in 2023

James Gordon
Khaled Rajab, Dan Russell and Bailey Hayward will be looking to make their NRL debut in 2023

The Rugby League World Cup can create opportunities for previously unknown players to thrust their name in to the spotlight and prove themselves.

With NRL clubs looking to finalise their squads for the 2023 season, we take a look at six players who could make their first grade debut when it gets underway.

Dan Russell (Papua New Guinea)

Dan Russell Papua New Guinea SWpix
Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix

Russell was part of the Papua New Guinea team that upset Great Britain in 2019 and he played in all four of the Kumuls matches at the recent World Cup.

He scored a try against Tonga having started the match on the wing, and added another against Wales, where he was named on the interchange bench.
Standing at 6’4”, the 27-year-old is known as a second row or centre, who has spent his career to date in the Queensland Cup competition.

Russell told Love Rugby League: “Hopefully I’ve got an opportunity with the (St George Illawarra) Dragons next year with Flano (Shane Flanagan)

“My first goal is to make NRL and hopefully I’m close to doing that but down the track I’d definitely come out here (England), do a bit of travelling and what not, it’d be silly not to.”

It is indeed with the Dragons that Russell is hoping to land a deal, with them having four spots to fill in their top 30 squad.

READ MORE: Papua New Guinea star Dan Russell hoping for NRL breakthrough

Bailey Hayward (Scotland)

Hayward enjoyed a breakthrough year at club level, named Canterbury Bulldogs’ Jersey Flegg Player of the Year.

He ended the year in the Scotland World Cup squad, though had to endure the painful 84-0 defeat to his country of birth, Australia.

Described as an old school half-back, Hayward has a tidy short kicking game and is known for his organisational skills.

Bulldogs legend Phil Gould labelled him as one to watch ahead of the World Cup.

Kyle Schneider (Scotland)

The 22-year-old played as Scotland’s interchange hooker against Italy and Australia, before playing the full 80 at nine in the loss to Fiji.

He made 18 appearances for the Mackay Cutters in the Queensland Cup last season and is a former Australia Schoolboys international.

Schneider came through the junior system at Parramatta Eels, but is currently on a train and trial deal with North Queensland Cowboys.

Khaled Rajab (Lebanon)

Another man tipped for great things by the Bulldogs’ Phil Gould is Lebanon half-back Khaled Rajab, who shone alongside Mitchell Moses during the World Cup.

Stepping in for the suspended Adam Doueihi, 20-year-old Rajab impressed in the win over Ireland.

After that game, Moses said: “He has a massive future in the game. He is at the Bulldogs at the moment, and they are crying out for some halves there, If he can step up to first grade, he’ll do a great job.”

Rajab featured in the New South Wales Cup last season, playing in the NSW Cup grand final against Penrith, after impressing in the Jersey Flegg competition.

Tipped to get an NRL debut at half-back next season, Rajab can also play at full-back or loose forward.

READ MORE: Lebanon half-back Khaled Rajab eyeing up NRL debut in 2023

Elie El-Zakhem (Lebanon)

Lebanon enjoyed a solid World Cup under the guidance of coach Michael Cheika and one of their impressive forwards was back-rower Elie El-Zakhem.

A workhorse, El-Zakhem played 80 minutes in all 21 games he played in 2022 for Parramatta’s NSW Cup side.

The 24-year-old averaged 29 tackles per game, and then went on to start in all four of Lebanon’s games in the end of year tournament, where they bowed out against Australia.

He scored tries in the wins over Ireland and Jamaica which sealed their progress through the group stages.

Jaxson Rahme (Lebanon)

Jaxson Rahme
Lebanon’s Jaxson Rahme (right) in action against Australia in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Rahme only turned 19 earlier this month and stands at 6ft tall and 100kg.

A prop or back-rower, he was a member of the 2021 Australia Schoolboys team before going on to make his international debut with Lebanon.

He played off the bench against Ireland, Jamaica and Australia.

Previously with Wests Tigers, he made the move to South Sydney Rabbitohs at the start of 2022 and will be hoping to land one of their available development contracts.

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