Top 13 NRL players to keep an eye on in 2020

Zach Holland

We take a look at 13 players that are worth keeping a close eye on throughout the season.

Bronson Xerri

The 19-year-old made his debut for Cronulla Sharks last season after impressing in the Jersey Flegg Cup in 2018 and what followed showed exactly why he has been tipped for a move to Sydney Roosters in the future. The youthful centre led the Sharks in tries, scoring 13 in 22 appearances for John Morris’ side and showcased his electric pace in the process.

George Williams

The 25-year-old half-back will make his NRL bow this season with plenty of eyes on him to see how he copes with the intensity and speed of the Australian game. The Raiders lost Aidan Sezer to Huddersfield in the off-season, leaving the door open for Williams to partner Jack Wighton in the halves. The former Wigan man joins a quartet of British players at Canberra with Josh Hodgson, John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead and Ryan Sutton so it will be interesting see how well he can link up with his fellow countrymen.

Liam Knight

With no Sam Burgess in the Rabbitohs’ forward pack this year, a lot of premise will be on some of the younger players to show what they are made of and step up to the plate. Alongside Tom Burgess, there is still plenty of choice with Tevita Tatola and Jaydn Su’A but Liam Knight looks to be one of the most impressive and could play a big role moving forward for not just Souths but New South Wales as well.

Scott Drinkwater

Before suffering an injury at the start of last season, Drinkwater was expected to make waves coming into the NRL whilst at Melbourne. Now injury free, the versatile back finds himself as part of the North Queensland Cowboys with plenty of expectation on his shoulders. The youngster will no doubt compete alongside the similarly young and talented Jake Clifford to partner Michael Morgan in the halves but Drinkwater’s ability to play at either full-back or the wing and his player of the tournament award in the NRL Nines mean we will no doubt see plenty of game time from him this coming season.

Kotoni Staggs

The Broncos certainly have a selection of younger talent worth keeping an eye out for as the season progresses, and Staggs is one of three Brisbane players to make the list after a fine 2019. In an otherwise topsy-turvy year for Anthony Seibold’s they finished last season strongly, making the top eight with their youngsters in inspiring form. The 21-year-old was one of their shining lights in 2019 and scored the second most tries for his side with 11 in 24 appearances.

Latrell Mitchell

After an off season filled with questions and controversy, Mitchell finally found himself a new club and one that may not leave Roosters fans too happy as the 22-year-old centre joins arch rivals South Sydney Rabbitohs in one of the biggest acquisitions in the sport’s history. The departures of Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess left huge voids in the Bunnies set up but the arrival of an ever-growing superstar in Mitchell can only mean good things for Wayne Bennett’s men. The New South Wales star will be under the radar once again though as he looks to make the switch from centre to full-back.

Valentine Holmes

After trying his hand in the NFL with the New York Jets, Holmes makes his return to NRL this season and this time it will be the North Queensland Cowboys. Between 2014 and 2018, the 24-year-old made a huge name for himself at Cronulla as one of the best wingers in the game with a tremendous finishing ability, making 105 appearances and scoring 66 tries. After a season away, it will be interesting to see how Holmes is able to adjust back into life in rugby league.

Ryan Papenhuyzen

The 21-year-old made his debut for Melbourne last year as the Storm looked to fill the spot left by Billy Slater in the full-back position. After string of impressive performances for Craig Bellamy’s men it was evident as to what trait set him apart above the rest and that was his exceptional speed. In the end of the season, he was beating out Jahrome Hughes to the number one role.

Tommy Talau

The Wests Tigers stand-off ticked all the right boxes during his time throughout the junior ranks and after making his debut in round 22 last year, we may just see more of the 19-year-old this coming year.

Payne Haas

The 2019 Dally M Rookie of the Year proved to be one of Brisbane’s shining lights all year in an inconsistent campaign for the Broncos. The 19-year-old showed an incredible work ethic and maturity for a player at such a young age and was a force with the ball in his hand and a havoc defensively. As a new season looms the emphasis will be on Haas to see if he can follow on from such a great debut season and push Anthony Seibold’s side into a deeper position inside the NRL finals.

Kyle Flanagan

The retirement of Cooper Cronk leaves a sizeable void in the Roosters halves, however, the reigning Champions have looked to rectify this by bringing in Kyle Flanagan from Cronulla to partner Luke Keary. The 21-year-old certainly has some big shoes to fill especially when you also take into account that goal kicking duties may be left open with the departure of Mitchell.

Brodie Croft

The 22-year-old made the move over Melbourne to Brisbane in the off-season and will likely be the man that partners Anthony Milford in the Broncos halves and plenty of eyes will be on the former Storm prospect to see if he can live up to growing expectations. Also, with young back Sean O’Sullivan still in rehab with a knee injury, the stage is set for Croft to have a breakout year with the six-time premiership winners.

Bradman Best

At only 18 years of age, Best played three NRL games for Newcastle Knights towards the end of last season and his talent was already evident as he notched a try, try assist, a line break and three tackle busts in that timespan. As the season draws closer, Best will need to overcome a fractured foot but with his big build and skillset hard for the Knights to pass up, he will more than likely slot right in at left centre once fully fit.

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