#KiwiNRL Encyclopedia: 2019 NRL Season Preview (Cowboys, Eels, Panthers, Rabbitohs, Dragons)

North Queensland Cowboys

Jason Taumalolo - Papakura Sea Eagles/Otahuhu Leopards (Auckland)

There was some pre-season noise about Jason Taumalolo shifting to an edge and that may be the case this season. Ever since Taumalolo entered this stage of his career where he's been going nuts through the middle, I've wondered how long he could maintain that level of performance given that this is the NRL and Taumalolo hovers around 10m/run off 20 runs per game against the best rugby league teams in the world. Physically that's kinda crazy, but the 'best rugby league teams' aspect is important as well because opposition teams are figuring out how to limit Taumalolo's influence. Whether on an edge or through the middle, Taumalolo is still important viewing as we see how he is progressing through his career.

Jordan Kahu - Petone Rugby Club (Wellington)

Fullback! Rather excited to finally see Kahu settle into a fullback gig.

Emry Pere - Taniwharau Rugby Leauge (Waikato)

Highly likely we will see Pere wiggle into NRL footy this season and along with the fella below, they are being groomed as the new crop of Cowboys middle forwards.

Peter Hola - Marist Saints (Auckland)

Can't find much info on Hola, but we know that he was in the Junior Kiwis last year alongside Pere and was a late addition to the Cowboys top-30. That means that Hola earned his spot in the NRL squad via strong summer efforts and that's always a good sign.

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Good old days #SAINTSUP 💚💛

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Good experience🤙🏾 #trials #mansneednewlungs

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Te Maire Martin - Turangawaewae Rugby (Waikato)

I'm not quite as excited for Martin as I am Kahu, however the prospect of Martin getting consistent game time as an NRL half is enticing. It won't be smooth sailing as pressure comes from Jake Clifford to partner Michael Morgan and Martin will need to perform to hold on to his spot. No one can honestly say that Martin has come close to even touching his potential shown early in his career and the retirement of Jonathan Thurston presents a fine opportunity for Martin to at least go up a level. Martin has slid down the Aotearoa Kiwis halves depth chart and can't really be viewed as a Kiwis factor at this stage.

Parramatta Eels

Josh Hoffman - Norths Mackay (Mackay)

Who knows if Hoffman can hold on to his NRL spot, despite his experience and I'd much rather see one of the beastliest #KiwiNRL wing prospects in Greg Leleisiuao get game time ahead of Hoffman.

Peni Terepo - Mangere East Hawks (Auckland)

Was super intrigued to see how Terepo progressed over summer after being a low key impressive factor in a crappy Eels season last year. Terepo has Taumalolo-ish power/mobility and showcased his slick hands last year, but Terepo always finds a way to get into trouble when returning to Auckland.

Brad Takairangi - Cronulla Caringbah (Sydney)

Kinda similar to Hoffman in the meh stakes.

Manu Ma'u - Marist Saints (Auckland)

Missed a fair chunk of last season via injury and the Eels will need Ma'u at his ruthlessly robust best if they are to make improvements this year. Ma'u has the rare combo of defensive aggression and defensive skill, along with powerful running out on the edges which can be crucial to a team's performance. That's also crucial to Tonga hitting a nek level and going past their current ceiling.

Dylan Brown - Hikurangi Stags (Whangarei)

It's not often we get a #KiwiNRL halves prospect who is viewed as bening as NRL-ready as Dylan Brown - usually these guys are Australian youngters. Brown's emergence is yet another sign of the #KiwiNRL takeover and the Northland product has plenty of buzz about him, although much of that stems from being a half at Parramatta Eels as they have consistently struggled to find a high quality half who can do the job. Based on the fact that Brown has been identified as a round one starter, he's mandatory viewing to start the season and Brown is kinda alone in that 'mandatory viewing' for #KiwiNRL youngsters category. We've seen how young players are brought into Kiwis camp under Michael Maguire and there's a decent chance that Brown could come into a Kiwis squad to catch the vibes, thus adding even wider Kiwis depth to the pool.

Marata Niukore - Mangere East Hawks (Auckland)

Another shining light from the Eels 2019 campaign, although without any silly off-field antics is Niukore and the Warriors junior will be out to build on top of last season. Niukore dabbled in edge and middle last season as his mobility allowed for him to have an impact and as the Eels have decent edge depth, Niukore could start the season as an x-factor off the bench. Ideally he settles into an edge forward role.

Greg Leleisiuao - Mangere East Hawks (Auckland)

Having made waves as a beastly prospect for a number of years now, we are yet to see Leleisiuao crack NRL footy after moving from Gold Coast Titans to Parramatta Eels. Much of that is due to injury and if he can stay healthy, we will definitely see him at some point this season.

Penrith Panthers

Caleb Aekins - Otaika Eagles/Hikurangi Stags (Whangarei)

300m on debut at fullback and unlikely to get many NRL minutes early this season. Aekins is yet another Northlander sniffing in and around the NRL, who is capable of playing fullback or centre. Dylan Edwards and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak have fullback covered, so watch for Aekins to sneak into centre when opportunities present themselves.

Jarome Luai - St Marys (Sydney)

Halves depth at this stage and unlikely to get NRL minutes until Origin time if Nathan Cleary and James Maloney stay healthy.

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak - St Clair Comets (Sydney - Hamilton)

Last year's Aotearoa Kiwis fixtures absolutely blew Watene-Zelezniak up as one of, if not my favourite Kiwis player. His leadership, how he conducts himself and obviously how he plays his footy was put into a Kiwis spotlight and now he is likely to slide back to the wing for Penrith Panthers. That feels like a bit of a come down after last year's high and as long as Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is healthy, Watene-Zelezniak is unlikely to play much fullback for Aotearoa. Wing is all good though and as long as he's doing his wing job to a high level in the NRL, Watene-Zelezniak should be able to keep out the contenders for the Kiwis wing spot; he is still very much the leading captaincy option for Aotearoa as well.

Sione Katoa - Randwick Kingfishers/Upper Hutt Tigers (Wellington)

Out of Wellington, Katoa should be Penrith's best dummy half option and he can also dabble in middle forward duties as well. Katoa joins Siliva Havili in Tonga's dummy half rotation and while they aren't celebrated like the forward pack, having two hookers available for the bulk of Tonga's fixtures is a huge boost. Kiwi-Tongans should pay close attention to Katoa's craft in the NRL as he's a nifty operator and has plenty of further potential.

Dean Whare - Arncliffe Scots (Sydney - Rotorua)

Still among the best centres in the NRL, Whare's got to stay fit and healthy.

Malakai Watene-Zelezniak - St Clair Comets (Sydney - Hamilton)

Outside back depth for the Panthers. Malakai returns to Penrith from Wests Tigers and could sneak on to the wing as a starter, but is likely to fill in when required and he's the perfect bloke to do so.

Moses Leota - St Marys (Sydney - Auckland)

The power/mobility combo is crucial to an NRL forward pack at the moment and Leota offers exactly that for Penrith. Another with strong Tonga links, Leota will start the season in Penrith's top-17, most likely coming off the bench as a middle forward.

James Fisher-Harris - Whangarei Marist Brothers (Whangarei/Hokianga)

Having dabbled in edge and middle throughout his career, Fisher-Harris settled into a middle role last season and will start the season as one of the bank-able selections through the middle

Nick Lui-Toso - Glenora Bears (Auckland)

Offering middle forward depth, Lui-Toso could sneak into NRL minutes at some stage. Penrith have plenty of faith in Lui-Toso and he's moved through their junior ranks to be an NRL factor ahead of this season.

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Matt McIlwrick - Halswell Hornet (Christchurch)

This was written prior to round one's team lists, so keep that in mind; McIlwrick could benefit from Wayne Bennett's arrival at South Sydney. Having been named on the bench for a few trials, McIlwrick's style compliments that of Damien Cook and I've got a hunch that Bennett will warm to what McIlwrick offers. Otherwise, the Cantab will offer depth as he has done throughout his career and be a reliable option when called upon.

Mawene Hiroti - Western Suburbs Tigers (Taranaki)

A low key #KiwiNRL prospect to ke a close eye on, is Taranaki's Hiroti and he was fast-tracked through the Rabbitohs system to make his debut last season on the wing. I'm eager to see how Bennett views Hiroti and whether the coaching change has a positive/negative impact on Hiroti's chances. Capable of playing wing/centre, Hiroti is a name to note down.

St George Illawara Dragons

Jordan Pereira - Upper Hutt College (Wellington)

Gone are Jason Nightingale (retired), Patrick Herbert and Leeson Ah Mau (both gone to Warriors), leaving Pereira as the lone #KiwiNRL player in the Dragons squad. Having impressed on the wing last season, Pereira just signed a contract extension and with Nene MacDonald leaving to North Queensland Cowboys, along with Nightingale's retirement, Pereira should get plenty of game time.

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