Albert Goldthorpe Rookie of the year shortlist

This season’s Albert Goldthorpe Rookie of the Year shortlist comprises six players who all made fewer than ten first-team appearances in Super League or the NRL before the start of the 2019 season.

We would like to thank Opta for providing statistics on their performances this season, with all the statistics quoted here relating to the first 27 rounds of the Super League competition.

Alex Walker (London Broncos) – Fullback

Born in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, Alex Walker burst onto the scene in September 2014 as a 19-year-old and played a pivotal role in London’s promotion year in 2018.

Since then, the rangy fullback has adapted well to Super League life, scoring five tries and making 11 assists in 25 appearances for the capital club in what has been a highly entertaining year for the Broncos in their first season back in the big time.

The four-time capped Scottish international has played in all but three of London’s games in 2019 and has been a potent attacking threat, making eight clean breaks and seven supported breaks for the Broncos as well as an average of 13.5 metres made per carry and 21 offloads, enabling his side to stay on the front foot.

Despite his attacking capabilities, Walker has still proved that he can handle most of what the opposition throws at him, whether that is a high kick or a line-break, providing an essential last line of defence that has been key in tight games.

At just 24 years of age, Walker has the potential to be world-class with his quick feet and lightning pace a thorn in Super League sides as London battle bravely to stay up.

2019 Stats
Appearances 24
Carries 328
Metres 1737
Tries 5
Clean Breaks 8
Supported Breaks 7
Offensive Misses 71
Quick PTB 24
Offloads 21
Try Assists 11
Total Tackles 161
Total Misses 43
% Tackles 79%
Pens Con 3
Errors 31
Kicks 12
Retained Kicks 3
Kick Errors 0
Passes 206
Goals 0
Missed Goals 0
Minutes Played 1906

Harry Newman (Leeds Rhinos) – Centre

Born in Huddersfield, 19-year-old Harry Newman has become a central figure for Leeds as they battle against relegation in 2019 following his debut back in 2017, when he became the first player born in the new century to play in Super League.

Registering 19 appearances for the Rhinos so far, winger or centre Newman has been one of the shining lights for Leeds in an otherwise disappointing season. The Rhinos Academy graduate has scored four tries, made nine clean breaks and supported five breaks, as well as making an astounding 2003 metres – and an even more remarkable average of 111.3 metres per game.

After making his way in the game on dual-registration at Featherstone – where he scored 22 tries in 18 appearances – Newman has cemented his position within the Leeds side with the departure of former skipper Kallum Watkins.

With the ability to fight in the tackle and earn a quick play-the-ball – indeed, Newman has earned 22 quick play-the-balls – and his impressive knack of offloading, which he has done 22 times in 2019, Newman has provided an alternative threat to his fellow centre Konrad Hurrell, giving Leeds opportunities down both edges, particularly in the second half of the season.

Having already made the centre position his own in 2019, Newman will kick on in 2020 and be at the forefront of Leeds’ attempted revival.

2019 Stats
Appearances 18
Carries 246
Metres 2003
Tries 4
Clean Breaks 9
Supported Breaks 5
Offensive Misses 87
Quick PTB 22
Offloads 22
Try Assists 4
Total Tackles 265
Total Misses 44
% Tackles 86%
Pens Con 7
Errors 18
Kicks 9
Retained Kicks 2
Kick Errors 2
Passes 72
Goals 0
Missed Goals 0
Minutes Played 1440

Morgan Smithies (Wigan Warriors) – Loose forward

Halifax-born Morgan Smithies has made a name for himself as a hard-hitting, no-nonsense forward with Wigan in 2019. Aged just 18, the 6 ft 1in, 95kg second-rower stormed into the Warriors side in March of this year, appearing off the bench in Wigan’s 42-0 demolition of Catalans.

Smithies has since made 19 appearances in a cherry-and-white jersey, impressing with his bullocking runs – although he has failed to cross the line as of yet – but it is his defence that has earned the most plaudits.

With just four errors to his name and a count of 563 tackles with a 97% success rate and an average of 32 tackles per game, Smithies is ranked amongst the best in the country and it is no wonder why head coach Adrian Lam values the teenager so highly.

With a cool head on his shoulders and a maturity that belies his youthful age, Smithies is going to be a key figure in the Wigan pack in years to come. His man-of-the-match performance in Wigan’s 20-6 victory over rivals Warrington in mid-August showed that he can more than mix it with the best and, during the Grand Final run in, Smithies is likely to prove his worth even further.

2019 Stats
Appearances  18
Carries 184
Metres 1064
Tries 0
Clean Breaks 1
Supported Breaks 0
Offensive Misses 15
Quick PTB 20
Offloads 2
Try Assists 1
Total Tackles 563
Total Misses 18
% Tackles 97%
Pens Con 9
Errors 4
Kicks 0
Retained Kicks 0
Kick Errors 0
Passes 41
Goals 0
Missed Goals 0
Minutes Played 971

Jack Welsby (St Helens) – Fullback

Born and raised in St Helens and a junior with Blackbrook, Jack Welsby has made ten appearances for Saints in 2019 so far, having made his debut in September 2018 in a victory over Hull FC. His form for Saints’ Academy in 2018 led to a call up to the Lancashire Origin side and he has since staked a claim for a regular spot in the league leaders’ side this season.

A stand-off with the ability to play anywhere along the back line, Welsby is a highly-thought of individual at Langtree Park. And, at the age of just 18, he has a long and glittering career ahead of him if he continues to boast the same attitude and temperament.

With three tries, 11 clean breaks and one supported break to his name in 2019, Welsby has repaid Justin Holbrook’s faith in him with a dangerous attacking and running threat. His first try for the club came in a 36-24 victory over Hull KR in March and there is nothing to say that Welsby cannot play a part in St Helens’ charge to Old Trafford if given the chance to do so.

2019 Stats
Appearances  10
Carries 115
Metres 776
Tries 3
Clean Breaks 12
Supported Breaks 1
Offensive Misses 39
Quick PTB 15
Offloads 9
Try Assists 9
Total Tackles 79
Total Misses 7
% Tackles 92%
Pens Con 0
Errors 10
Kicks 10
Retained Kicks 3
Kick Errors 0
Passes 122
Goals 0
Missed Goals 0
Minutes Played 672

Ratu Naulago (Hull FC) – Wing

Ratu Naulago’s story is perhaps one of the most inspiring to have graced the sport of Rugby League. Naulago is a Private in the Yorkshire Regiment and served in Cyprus for two years before being based in Warminster, Wiltshire, and playing rugby union as a ‘guest player’ for Bath Rugby and Saracens FC Sevens team, who he helped to the Premiership title.

The Fijian flyer was picked up by head coach Lee Radford after spending pre-season and the early weeks of the 2019 campaign on trial. The British Army recruit was granted a first-team playing contract in late February, after having been given a temporary release from active service to pursue his opportunity with the black-and-whites and he has not looked back since that moment.

13 tries in 18 appearances is notable enough, but Naulago’s 24 clean breaks and an average metres made per game of 91 proves Radford’s decision to sign the winger was well-judged.

Naulago’s incredible pace and superb athleticism has paved the way for some of the most exciting tries in 2019. His length-of-the-field efforts against Catalans and Hull KR highlighted his ability to score from anywhere, whilst his agility and dexterity has enabled the winger to plant the ball down in nearly impossible situations.

2019 Stats
Appearances  18
Carries 207
Metres 1630
Tries 13
Clean Breaks 24
Supported Breaks 2
Offensive Misses 61
Quick PTB 25
Offloads 10
Try Assists 2
Total Tackles 111
Total Misses 25
% Tackles 82%
Pens Con 9
Errors 24
Kicks 1
Retained Kicks 0
Kick Errors 0
Passes 24
Goals 0
Missed Goals 0
Minutes Played 1425

Joey Lussick (Salford Red Devils) – Hooker

Aged just 23, Joey Lussick has taken to Salford and Super League like a duck to water after moving from NRL side Manly, for whom he had made just one first-team appearance, near the back end of the 2018 season.

With the capacity to play anywhere along the spine, Lussick has become an integral cog in the Salford wheel in 2019, controlling the side on the field and being an important figure off it.

His 27 appearances have yielded ten tries as well 13 try assists, plus his ability to kick from dummy-half has enabled Salford to get on the front foot many times in 2019, but it is his 883 tackles that have enamoured him to the Red Devils faithful as well as boss Ian Watson.

With a 93% tackle success rate and an average of 32 tackles made per game, Lussick is not just an exciting attacking player, but also a formidable defender and therefore one of the first names on the Salford teamsheet.

The Red Devils have had a tremendous season in 2019 as they find themselves within touching distance of a play-off spot for the first time since 2006 and Lussick has played a major part in that. His deal ends at the end of 2020, but Watson will be eager to tie him down further.

2019 Stats
Appearances  26
Carries 117
Metres 697
Tries 10
Clean Breaks 4
Supported Breaks 4
Offensive Misses 20
Quick PTB 4
Offloads 5
Try Assists 13
Total Tackles 833
Total Misses 63
% Tackles 93%
Pens Con 23
Errors 7
Kicks 33
Retained Kicks 1
Kick Errors 3
Passes 2091
Goals 4
Missed Goals 4
Minutes Played 1594