EVERY year, some young players take the bull by the horns and announce themselves on the Super League.
St Helens’ George Delaney and Wigan Warriors’ Junior Nsemba were two such players in 2023 with both men enjoying stellar breakout seasons.
Looking ahead to the 2024 season, which five starlets should we look out for?
Zach Eckersley – Wigan Warriors
Zach Eckersley was handed his debut in 2022 by Wigan boss Matt Peet against Hull KR, but the centre didn’t feature for the Warriors in 2023. That being said, the 20-year-old is highly-rated at the DW Stadium and has had a number of impressive loan spells away from the club at places like Widnes Vikings, London Broncos and Barrow Raiders. Though Wigan have signed Adam Keighran to replace Toby King in the centres, Eckersley will be pushing hard to make that centre spot his own in 2024.
Jake Burns – St Helens
It has been a whirlwind number of seasons for Jake Burns, who only signed his first full-time contract with St Helens towards the end of last year. The hooker originally came to the Merseyside club on a three-month trial in January 2022 after spotted playing open age with Halton Farnworth Hornets before he made his mark on Saints’ reserves side. A loan spell with North Wales Crusaders pushed Burns to the forefront with the hooker playing in the Welsh side’s League One play-off defeat to Doncaster. With Daryl Clark and Moses Mbye in front of Burns at Saints, it may take some doing to get game time but the number nine’s rise has been rapid so far.
Leon Hayes – Warrington Wolves
Leon Hayes is effectively first choice back-up to Josh Drinkwater and George Williams in the halves at Warrington following the departure of Riley Dean. The diminutive playmaker made his debut back in 2021 for the Wolves, but has since made only two more appearances to add to his tally. That being said, new director of rugby Gary Chambers rated Hayes highly during his short tenure as interim head coach in 2023 and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 19-year-old given more a shot under new boss Sam Burgess going forward.
Kieran Hudson – Leeds Rhinos
Kieran Hudson was signed by Castleford Tigers but failed to play a game during the 2023 season following an Achilles injury. Now, at Leeds, the towering forward looks a devastating prospect, standing at 6 ft 5 tall and weighing well over 100kgs. The 23-year-old is chomping at the bit to make his name in Super League and the 2024 season could well be the year in which head coach Rohan Smith hands Hudson his big chance.
Cesar Rouge – Catalans Dragons
The 21-year-old has 13 appearances for the Catalans Dragons to his name, but Cesar Rouge has yet to play regularly for the French side since debuting back in 2021. Now though, with the departure of Sam Tomkins, Tyrone May and Mitchell Pearce, Rouge may well get his chance to stake his name under the tutelage of Steve McNamara in 2024. With Jayden Nikorima and Theo Fages set to be McNamara’s first choice halfbacks, Rouge will have to wait patiently for his chance. However, the 21-year-old will take his opportunity with both hands.
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