This years NRL Auckland Nines features no shortage of budding young superstars who will be showcasing their attacking exploits on Eden Park. We’ve narrowed down five names who are primed to play a big part in the weekends theatrics.
After spending his first two seasons at the Raiders, for the first time electric young gun Anthony Milford will represent the Brisbane Broncos after a highly publicized move that is one of the most intriguing personnel changes heading into the 2015 campaign.
It can be hard to believe at times that Milford, who already has 42 NRL games under his belt as well as multiple international appearances for Samoa, is just 20 years of page. The emphatic statement he has issued the league with his play on the paddock makes it feel like he has been around a long time establishing himself as one of the game’s most exciting talents. He’s scored 21 tries across his short career, despite being saddled with a lacklustre Raiders squad who won just 38% of the games he’s played so far.
With footwork that would upstage Michael Flatley, Milford ghosts through defences with ease and continues to improve on his playmaking credentials with a very soft pair of hands. With the Broncos, Milford now finds himself with one of the game’s most successful clubs, and expectations will be higher from a team and fan-base accustomed to high quality players. The Nines style of play fits Milford perfectly and will be a great chance for Milford to showcase his wares to the Brisbane faithful.
At just 21 years old, James Roberts has already bounced his way around multiple teams, struggling with off-field discretions that threatened to prematurely end the former Jack Gibson medallist’s career in the NRL before it really got off the ground.
Thrown a lifeline by the Gold Coast Titans, the nephew of one time try scoring freak Amos Roberts continued to exhibit signs of the elite game-breaking talent that he possesses. Roberts possesses blistering speed that is almost unparalleled in the NRL. Blink and when you open your eyes you may well find that he’s sliced through the line with ease and is strolling to the try-line with several defenders rendered hopeless chasing the sonic like speedster.
The unfortunate narrative throughout Roberts’ career so far has been steadily negative, but when he is on the paddock he’s shown plenty of indication that he’s a potential Origin talent if he can keep himself straight off the field. The Titans group were reminiscent of a track team at the Nines last year, and Roberts only further bolsters that. With the wide open field to stretch his legs, the Nines present a prime opportunity for Roberts to have a real coming out party in front of a huge stage.
2014 was a transformative year for Dragons superstar Josh Dugan as he migrated his way into the centres, finding himself back in the Origin arena in the process. The onetime problem child kept his nose clean for the Red V, but in an unfortunate, albeit familiar tale, once again dealt with injuries that tried to slow him down.
It seems like every time I watch Dugan play there’ll be multiple instances when he bounces across the field, fending off three or four would-be tacklers with ease trying to create an opportunity. He’s deceivingly strong, or has adamantium claws sticking out of hands, whatever the case guys simply can’t tackle him. The way Dugan seems to be able to twist and contort himself on the field is Stretch Armstrong like.
Dugan’s slipperier than an Eel in a bubble bath, and his uncanny ability to spring around the park dispatching defenders is all the more dangerous when there’s only nine blokes on the field who can try to stop him. Success has been hard to come by for the Dragons since Dugan’s arrival, this tournament presents a chance for Dugan to lead his side in a positive direction for 2015.
2015 is set to be a huge year for the twinkle-toed Kiwi sensation as he attempts to fill the boots of retired Roosters club legend Anthony Minichiello. His former hometown of Auckland looks to be the perfect stage for RTS to launch his campaign as the Roosters custodian.
At just 21 years of age, Tuivasa-Sheck has already compiled an enviable list of credentials. Already with 57 NRL games under his belt, along with seven games for New Zealand in which he has scored eight tries, a Grand Final winner with the Roosters in 2013, a Dally M and RLIF Winger of the year winner, it’s scary to think what the future may hold for the young man. He has spent the majority of his career on the wing, waiting for Minichiello to relinquish his throne, and now that he has, many pundits anticipate RTS to blossom into one of the games great fullbacks.
From the outset of his NRL career, Tuivasa-Sheck has regularly shown off his jaw dropping footwork that leaves defenders frozen, the proverbial “ankle-breaker”, RTS has the best step in the game without question, and I would go as far as to say that he has the best footwork that I have ever seen with an oval shaped ball period. Coupled with fantastic speed, athleticism and often overlooked due to the surplus of captivating highlights is a great understanding of the game, he’s more than just an athletic freak.
The poster boy of the Nines and the golden child of both the Warriors and New Zealand Rugby League, the praise may sound overly glowing, but this format is designed for the 2014 Golden Boot winner to flourish. This list wouldn’t be complete without him.
Since blitzing onto the NRL scene in 2011, the Shaun Johnson show has been must watch Television. Reminiscent of the golden years of the great Benji Marshall, Johnson brings a sublime mixture of flare and skill that is unmatched in Rugby League. The footwork is dazzling, his ability to navigate a team around the park is growing, his defence has vastly improved, but his blazing speed is perhaps his greatest attribute, just ask Michael Jennings about the time Johnson ran him down like he’d stolen his wallet.
The Warriors have left a lot of fans disappointed in recent times with their inconsistent performances failing to capitalise on what is perceived to be one of the competitions most talented groups, their inaugural Nines performance left a familiar taste in many people’s mouths. Johnson, who has continued to take up more responsibilities as a leader will realise this, and he’ll understand the elation he could bring to his hometown crowd if he sparks something special this year.