There are NRL players that year in and year out can be relied on to continually perform at the highest level for their teams. There are players like Cameron Smith who consistently rise to and exceed the expectations of fans. However, there are also those that send the league into overdrive with out of the box moments of brilliance. These are the five players to watch for to have cracker seasons in 2018.
When Kalyn Ponga signed with the Newcastle Knights, making him the richest teenager in NRL history, he put immediate pressure on himself to live up to the hype. Despite only playing a handful of games, Ponga has already shown the immense potential he has to become a star in the NRL. From his solid debut in the 2016 finals series to his man of the match performance against the Knights in round 8 last year, Ponga has consistently risen to the expectation of a star in the making. He now will have the opportunity to play constant first grade football and build up a strong partnership with star halfback Mitchell Pearce who will only help guide his development. Ponga is destined for success and will turn his untapped potential into unbelievable performances in 2018.
It is amazing the difference a year can make. Flashback to 2017 and Matt Moylan was captain of one of the premiership favourites in the Penrith Panthers and predicted to become a genuine star in the competition. Despite flashes of brilliance, Moylan’s season was a disappointment and included injuries, being dropped to reserve grade and withdrawing from his teams final series due to “personal reasons”. In 2018, Moylan will have a fresh start at Cronulla where he has been encouraged to play to his strengths which means being aggressive, running with the ball and by playing ad-lib football. He has already starred in their preseason trial against the Tigers where everything he seemed to touch turned to gold. Expect a much happier Moylan having a much better season where he restores his place as one of the young stars in the NRL.
In 2015, the New Zealand Warriors signed Isaac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and a maiden premiership was predicted for a side bursting with talent. In 2017, Isaac Luke was considered by many to be the most disappointing player on one of the most disappointing teams in the NRL. Look for this to change in 2018. In the past few seasons, Luke has battled weight and fitness issues but from all reports he has worked extremely hard in the preseason to get his body right and his hunger for the game back. Being overlooked for the Kiwis World Cup Squad at the end of last year may be a blessing in disguise as he was able to complete a full preseason with the Warriors. Being off contract at the end of the year will only serve as further motivation for Luke to get his career back on track and win back disgruntled Warriors supporters. He has impressed coach Stephen Kearney and new recruit Adam Blair with his attitude and effort in the offseason. Expect him to impress NRL fans once the season kicks off.
With the lowest number of members in the NRL, there will not be much expectation from Gold Coast Titans fans for Ashley Taylor to perform. However, after becoming one of the hottest young players in the game and recently signing a three million dollar contract in the offseason, NRL fans will expect big things from Taylor. With a new coach and a promising young roster, Taylor will be the senior half at the club and any success on the Gold Coast will be resting on his shoulders. From all reports, Taylor has been fantastic in the preseason and has done everything asked of him by new coach Garth Brennan. Taylor is a student of the game and will constantly look for ways to improve and make his mark on the competition. Look for Ashley Taylor to change from one of the most promising young halves in the game to becoming one of the most dominant. Also with Cooper Cronk retiring from representative football, expect Taylor’s name to be seriously considered to fill this important role.
With Josh Dugan leaving the Dragons to sign with Cronulla, it left a gaping hole in backline for Paul McGregor to fill. In two preseason appearances for his club, Matt Dufty has not just shown that he can fill the role this year but may have the fullback position for many years in the future. Dufty is a very powerful and dangerous runner of the football and will give the Dragons another ball player to spear head what could be a very strong attacking side in 2018. Dufty’s skillset reminds many of that of Broncos captain Darius Boyd which will help build a strong combination with Ben Hunt. Expect Dufty to provide moments of brilliance and become one of the most exciting young players in this year’s competition.
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