KFC SuperCoach NRL 2023 Rookie Watch: Likely debutants at every club, cheapies

From rugby league’s best schoolboy players to mature-age rookies plying their trade for years, these are the players set to break into the NRL big time in 2023.

From rugby league’s best schoolboy players to mature-age rookies plying their trade for years, these are the players set to break into the NRL big time in 2023.

After earning promotion into their club’s top-30 roster spots or still biding their time in the development squads, there are several players at every club set for a debut in 2023.


Blake Mozer – The 18-year-old hooker is rated one of the finest talents to come out of the Broncos Academy and is likened in style to Queensland legend Cameron Smith. While Billy Walters and Cory Paix are frontrunners for the No.9 jumper, Mozer has been added to Brisbane’s full-time squad and made his Queensland Cup debut this year. Tall and creative, Mozer trained with the top squad at age 17 last summer and is expected to get a taste of NRL action in 2023. “Blake will be in our full-time squad this pre-season,” Broncos Academy boss Simon Scanlan said. “He is an outstanding young talent, one of the best we have ever had come through the Academy. I expect him to debut at some stage at the back half of the year. This year is more of a development year for Blake, rather being a regular week-to-week in the NRL.”


No obvious answer here given the Raiders have just one player in their top 30 without first-grade experience.

That is back-rower Clay Webb, who was a development player in 2022 before being upgraded to a top 30 contract for this season.

Webb, 20, is a no-frills second-rower who co-captained the Raiders’ SG Ball side to the 2021 premiership. A good trial period could put the former NSW under-16s representative in the frame for early round selection given some of the players who have left.

While Webb is the only rookie in the top squad, there are a host of development players who will be push for a spot later in the season. These include Lebanese international Brandon Morkos, a centre, and halfback Ethan Strange.

Strange is a Central Coast junior while Morkos was signed from the Steelers ahead of the 2022 season. Ex-Sea Eagles half Zane Dunford has two years as a development player before joining the top squad in 2025.


Jeral Skelton – Timing is everything in rugby league and the Dogs lean depth in their outside backs could provide Skelton, a former Australian Rugby Sevens player, his taste of NRL in 2023. Skelton is aiming to follow in the footsteps of a former sevens teammate, Cronulla’s Lachlan Miller. Seriously powerful, Skelton is a hard-running centre, who joined the Dogs on a train and trial contract at the end of last season. He wasted little time displaying glimpses of his promise in the NSW Cup with three tries in six games. Clearly he still has a lot to learn to perfect the cross-code switch, but the good judges suggest his shot could come in 2023.


Kayal Iro – Granted, he made his debut with one NRL game in 2022, but Kayal Iro is a name Sharks fans will be hearing much more of this season.

The son of former Kiwi international Kevin Iro is a robust centre who is powerful with a wicked fend. He’s a reigning Brad Fittler Medallist after winning the 2022 NSW Cup player of the year.

The 20-year-old made his debut on the wing for the Sharks in round 24, but he’s much more at home at centre or fullback, where he has represented the Cook Islands on six occasions.


The Dolphins have been criticised for their recruitment strategy around signing mostly experienced older players and fringe first graders from rival clubs. But they have also nabbed some of the game’s hottest young prospects.

Penrith product Isaiya Katoa is already a Tongan Test player without having made his NRL debut. Katoa is rated one of the best young players to come out of Penrith and has a bright future ahead of him.

He is unlikely to start the season in first grade but should make his debut at some point in 2023.

The Dolphins have also picked up under-19s NSW Origin centre Jack Bostock and young hooker Harrison Graham, who has drawn comparisons with Harry Grant.

Penrith youngster Mason Teague will go straight into the top-30 squad out of school and is another bright prospect. Despite fielding many experienced NRL players, Bennett should get the chance to hand out his fair share of first grade debuts next year.


Holbrook has ushered in plenty of new talent over the past few years and has some exciting young prospects at his disposal.

The Titans have snapped up some of Queensland’s best schoolboys players in recent years who are now edging closer to the NRL.

While they have plenty of playmaking options, Tom Weaver is rated as future NRL halfback and is entering his second season with the club.

Flying winger Alofi’ana Khan-Pereira scored 25 tries in the Hostplus Cup for Burleigh last season and should make his NRL debut.

Tino Fa’asuamaleaui’s younger brother Iszac has impressed in pre-season training and will edge closer to an NRL debut.

The Titans also have an electric young fullback in Keano Kini, who dominated this year’s schoolboys competitions and is now training full-time with the NRL squad.


While no relation to his NRL namesake, rising young Viliami Fifita has shown encouraging signs.

Just 21 years old, Fifita will be considered for the NRL some time this year – more likely later in the season.

He has always been a player of immense promise, coming through Manly’s pathways academy after first joining the club as a 14-year-old. He stands 194cm and weighs 112kg.

Fifita was part of Manly’s Harold Matthews and SG Ball grand final sides in recent years and is now part of the Sea Eagles’ top 30 with club officials claiming he is a player ready to blossom.


Jonah Pezet – Announced himself as a genuine NRL prospect with an impressive performance in this year’s under-19s State of Origin match. The naturally gifted playmaker already has a well-developed game and excels when it comes to organising and reading the play. At any other club, Pezet would be on the cusp of an NRL debut. But with the halves locked down by Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes, Pezet might have to bide his time a little longer. But he’s shown he could be a handy injury or Origin replacement and that is where his shot is likely to come in 2023.Joe Chan – Lured from the Catalans Dragons in the Super League, the hard running backrower can find a hole in the defensive line and even create opportunities for those around him. Chan played 26 games since debuting in 2021. The 20-year old has what it takes to shake things up in the pre-season and push for a start in the early rounds.


He may have snuck in one NRL game late in season 2022 but rising star Oryn Keeley is primed to become Newcastle’s Next Big Thing.

Keeley, 19, is a powerful second rower who was named this year’s under 19s NSW State of Origin player of the year.

He has been forced to overcome a fractured neck and knee problems to set up a future which most believe will be grand.

Keely played one NRL match this year – a 28-22 loss to Canberra in round 23. He has already taken the eye of several NSW stars who watched his performances against Queensland this year.


Keep an eye on Valingi Kepu, who has been stashed on a development contract and helped Redcliffe to a lower-grade grand final in Queensland last year. But the Warriors are high on the six-foot front-rower, who has officially been promoted into the club’s top 30 for 2023. In what is a fairly experienced forward pack, coach Webster could opt to inject some raw talent when the opportunity arises.


Riley Price and Taniela Sadrugu – The Cowboys blooded a host of young guns last season and there is more to roll off the production line in Price and Sadrugu. The former is the son of Queensland Origin and Bulldogs legend Steve Price and like his old man, the 21-year-old Riley has impressed with his work ethic and ability to play prop or second row. Sadrugu is a powerfully-built centre or winger who joined the Cowboys last year after defecting from Fijian rugby union. He turned out for Fiji at the World Cup and after scoring seven tries from 15 games for feeder-club Townsville in the Queensland Cup this year, the 24-year-old is keen to make his mark in the NRL.

Who takes the next step: Tom Dearden has only scratched the surface of his talent. The 21-year-old endured two turbulent years at the Broncos but his move to North Queensland has helped Dearden rebuild his game and confidence. In 2022, Payten’s faith in Dearden was vindicated as the Broncos discard flourished as Chad Townsend’s halves partner and was rewarded with his Queensland Origin debut. Dearden brained the Blues to inspire the Maroons’ win in the Suncorp decider and will be a key man in the Cowboys’ premiership assault.


Toni Mataele – This should come as music to the ears of Parramatta fans still digesting the loss of rampaging forwards Isaiah Papali’i and Marata Niukore.

Young forward Toni Mataele is now tipped to be the next big thing on the horizon.

An edge back-rower who plays a similar style to Souths’ wrecking ball Keaon Koloamatangi, Mataele’s background is that he went to school at Patrician Brothers Blacktown and was a gun coming through Harold Matthews and SG Ball competitions.

He is now tipped to make his NRL debut at some stage in 2023 after recently signing a new deal to keep him at the club until the end of 2025.

Samuel Loizou – The young centre is another who could make his presence felt in the coming season. While Loizou has played one NRL game back in 2021, it should be pointed out that he is still a teenager and has by no means missed his shot.


Centre Thomas Jenkins, forward Liam Henry and playmaker Jack Cole were handed their debuts in Penrith‘s final game of the season, giving Panthers fans a glimpse of the future.

Penrith’s 1 to 17 is pretty settled. But there is competition for places, especially from Jenkins and Sunia Turuva in the backs.

A fullback, Turuva has shown plenty in NSW Cup and for Fiji at the Rugby League World Cup, where he was named in the team of the tournament.

Versatile and safe under the high ball, he played three NRL games last year and will keep the incumbent back-five on their toes.

So will Jenkins, who scored 20 tries from 22 matches playing on the wing and at centre in the NSW Cup.

Mavrik Geyer (below), the son of Panthers great Mark, was 18th man in round 25 last year and has continued to edge closer to making an NRL debut.
Ativalu Lisati is making all the right moves in the lower grades, but a debut appears further down the track. Lisati will be upgraded to the top 30 in 2024.


The rookie coach showed he wasn’t afraid to blood some rookies to go with him last season, handing out debuts to Trent Peoples, Shaquai Mitchell, Isaiah Tass and Izaac Thompson – all of whom were over 23 years of age. That was on top of playing young guns Ilias and Davvy Moale. The Rabbitohs recently re-signed Tass and Thompson, but should they suffer any hint of second-year syndrome, they have Josiah Karapani waiting in the wings. The 20-year-old robust centre, who likes a dummy-half run, an offload and has also been likened to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, scored three tries and set up two in five NSW Cup games, while scoring four in three Jersey Flegg (under-21s) matches.


Talented brothers Haele and Sione Finau arrive after developing in the Storm system and both will be pushing to be a part of the top squad.

Haele is a hooker on a train-and-trial contract while younger brother Sione is on the development list and plays in the outside backs.

With Andrew McCullough gone, Jacob Liddle is the obvious leading contender for the No.9 jumper. But they reckon Haele has been super impressive during the pre-season, while Sione is said to be very talented but up against some stiff opposition with so many exciting outside backs already at the Dragons.

Another young dummy-half looking for a shot is Connor Muhleisen who has come through the Dragons system and is also on a development contract. While he is yet to officially debut he got a crack in a trial last season and looked more than capable.

The other two to keep an eye out for are young props Joshua Coric, who probably would have got his debut in 2022 if not for injury, while new recruit Nick Lui-Toso was obviously brought to the club for a reason.


If you haven’t heard of a young player named Siua Wong don’t worry, you will very soon. This 19-year-old back-rower is an absolute gun, likened to a teenage Sonny Bill Williams, and is expected to make his presence felt in 2023.

One thing the Roosters do have good depth in is edge forwards with Angus Crichton, Nat and Egan Butcher and Sitili Tupouniua all fighting for spots.

But good judges reckon Wong should still play a significant chunk of 2023 in the top grade. It’s just a case of when he gets his start.

The other really exciting youngster in the Roosters’ top 30 is boom centre Robert Toia. From Nudgee College, Toia was rated arguably the best of the schoolboy outside backs coming through in Queensland before he suffered a knee injury that will delay his start to 2023.

Outside back Vuate Karawalevu is another one to watch out for. The young Fijian made an impression at the recent World Cup and is on the development list.


Apisalome Saukuru – ‘Lome’ is a star of the future. The 20-year-old backrower is big and physical and is developing well in the lower grades. His path to the NRL was clearer when Kelma Tuilagi and Luke Garner moved on but the talented rookie will have to bid his time behind the likes of Shawn Blore and Isaiah Papali’i. Lome joins Brandon Tumeth as part of a rising crop of second row forwards at Concord, who will push for debuts over the course of 2023. Both are on development contracts.

Josh Feledy – Feledy, 18, is young but the Tigers were willing to blood seven rookies last season, including winger Junior Tupou, so a debut for the centre in 2023 is a distinct chance. On paper, the Tigers have plenty of outside back options with experience. But even the spot of veteran David Nofoaluma, who was demoted to NSW Cup, in the side wasn’t a certainty. There are spots up for grabs and Feledy, the try scoring machine, who crossed for 29 tries from 17 games across Harold Matthews and SG Ball, would not look out of place in an NRL side – when the time is right.

Originally published as KFC SuperCoach NRL 2023 Rookie Watch: Likely debutants at every club, cheapies

https://www.codesports.com.au/nrl/supercoach-news/kfc-supercoach-nrl-2023-rookie-watch-likely-debutants-at-every-club-cheapies/news-story/ce2e439be99027b710d16af57248f8c8?nk=dd06c1a6f4711ad01ad79e25ba848a03-1674764766 KFC SuperCoach NRL 2023 Rookie Watch: Likely debutants at every club, cheapies

Ryan Sederquist

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