TotalRL checks out the young players who could make a big impression in the new Super League season as contenders for the Albert Goldthorpe Rookie of the Year Medal…
Every year Super League welcomes a host of young players who are hoping to make the big breakthrough into first grade, perhaps as potential superstars.
And every year, prior to the start of the season, League Express unveils a young star from each Super League club who we believe could make a name for himself in the season ahead.
Frequently the rookie stars that you will read about in this feature have to rely on injuries to more established players to get their break into the big time, making it difficult to predict which players will get an opportunity to shine.
But with the creation six years ago of the Albert Goldthorpe Rookie of the Year Medal by League Express, there is a lot at stake for all the game’s young stars.
In League Express today we take a look at a selection of rookies who are raring to go in Super League in 2014, and who could be genuine contenders for the Rookie Medal at the end of the season.
We have selected one player from each of the 14 Super League clubs, and you will be able to join us in charting their progress throughout Super League XVIII.
There is no guarantee that the 2014 Rookie of the Year will come from the list of players on this page, which can only add to the interest with which the progress of these and other young players will be followed.
For the purposes of this article and the Rookie of the Year award, a Rookie is defined as a player who has made ten or fewer first-team appearances with a Super League club, an NRL club, or a Championship club, excluding appearances with Championship clubs where a player is registered with a Super League club, but is on loan at or dual-registered with the Championship club.
So here are the rookies who we suggest you should follow during the 2014 season. We list one player from each club, his date of birth, the number of Super League games he has already played before the start of the season and his junior club.
Oliver Roberts (DOB: 24/12/95; SL 0+2; SL Debut 9/6/13 v St Helens -a; Junior club: Siddal)
With potentially a number of more experienced players ahead of him in the pecking order at the Bulls, Oliver Roberts, the youngest player on these pages, may look like a wildcard choice.
However, the financial problems that the club is suffering from, and the possibility of players leaving Odsal, could hand Roberts an easier pathway into the Bulls’ first team, though equally their rivals may see the England Academy international as a target.
On the field, Roberts is a talented right-hand side second rower. He came through the Scholarship at Salford City Reds before joining the Bulls, making two Super League appearances for Bradford in 2013, both from the substitutes bench.
Ben Reynolds (DOB: 15/1/94; SL 0+2; SL Debut 1/9/13 v Salford City Reds – h; Junior clubs: Knottingley Rockware and Featherstone Lions)
Ben Reynolds is another player to have dipped his toe into the Super League waters with games against Salford and Wakefield in 2013, and he looks likely to add to the experience of those games this season.
The Tigers have brought in two new halfbacks in Luke Dorn and the on-loan Marc Sneyd, with Jordan Tansey and Richard Owen able to play fullback, while Reynolds is comfortable at either halfback or fullback.
Reynolds has been described as a player with a fantastic footballing ability, one who is deceptive, and who is a proven try scorer and is safe under the high ball.
The vision and excitement that spells a promising future saw the Tigers extend Reynolds’ contract in 2013.
David Guasch (DOB: 3/1/90; SL 1+0; SL Debut 19/3/10 v Crusaders – a; Junior club: Saint-Estève – XIII Catalan)
All of the players named by the Catalan Dragons 25-man squad for the 2014 season have already played too many games for the Rookie of the Year qualification.
David Guasch played just one game in 2013 – in the 50-12 Challenge Cup win at Hunslet, three years after his Super League debut against the Crusaders.
He’s playing regularly in Steve Deakin’s Saint-Estève – XIII Catalan side in the domestic competition, and the halfback could be a wildcard for 2014.
Jake Connor (DOB: 18/10/94; SL 2+0; SL Debut 7/9/13 v Bradford Bulls – a; Junior club: Siddal)
When Jake Connor made his Super League debut at Bradford in September he was one of four players making their Super League bow in that game for the Giants. And he was a member of a team with a number of other youngsters who were not far ahead of the fullback in terms of Super League appearances.
On the back of Connor’s debut at Bradford and a further appearance for the Giants at Warrington in the end of season play-offs there’s little doubt that the Siddal product has the talent to step up into Super League.
Huddersfield certainly think so; they handed a contract extension to Connor prior to his Super League breakthrough, keeping him tied to the Giants until the end of the 2016 season.
Jamie Shaul (DOB: 1/7/92; SL 8; SL Debut 1/4/13 v Wakefield Trinity Wildcats – a; Junior club: Skirlaugh)
Hull FC winger Tom Lineham was the 2013 winner of the Albert Goldthorpe Rookie of the Year, and perhaps on the showing of his own performances last year fullback Jamie Shaul can make it a double for the Humberside club.
Shaul, originally a halfback before switching to fullback at Skirlaugh, deputised for Shannon McDonnell at the KC last season, and he looks certain to give the Australian a run for his money when the new season gets underway.
A devastating runner in open space, Shaul is well known to new Hull FC head coach Lee Radford, who coached Shaul in the club’s under-20s.
Shaul signed a new deal with Hull FC in May 2013 and just scrapes into contention for the Rookie award having made ten appearances in all competitions.
Josh Guzdek (DOB: 22/4/95; SL 1+0; SL Debut 8/9/13 v London Broncos – h; Junior club: Skirlaugh)
Another fullback and another product of the Skirlaugh club.
Guzdek was rewarded with a two-year contract by the club in September after a successful season with the club’s under-19s side and a Super League debut against London Broncos at the end of the 2013 campaign.
The young fullback, who has been connected with Rovers since the age of 13, made a dream debut against the Broncos, in what was the final home match of 2013 for Rovers, scoring a try within 30 seconds of the kick-off.
Guzdek is an entertainer with ball in hand, but he’s still only 18 and time is on his side.
Alex Foster (DOB: 25/9/93; SL 0+8; SL Debut 30/6/13 v Widnes Vikings – a; Junior club: Wetherby Bulldogs)
Although Gloucestershire-born Alex Foster didn’t make his Leeds debut until round 20 of the 2013 Super League season he was a regular name on Brian McDermott’s teamsheet from that point, as he made eight appearances from the substitutes’ bench.
Regarded as a player with a good work ethic, Foster is equally at home at centre or in the second row.
Twenty-year old Foster is another to have been handed a contract extension in 2013 and is now tied to the Rhinos until the end of the 2016 campaign.
A player who has won Players’ Player of the Year awards with the club’s Academy side, he is expected to build on his progress as the 2014 season unfolds.
Mason Caton-Brown (DOB: 24/5/93; SL 3; SL Debut 1/9/13 v Bradford Bulls – a; Junior club: Hemel Stags)
Mason Caton-Brown made his mark on Super League with tries in each of the Broncos’ final two games of the 2013 season.
After scoring on his debut at Bradford the threequarter ran in a hat-trick to help the Broncos win at Hull KR and finish the season with a welcome pair of wins.
Earlier in the season Caton-Brown had returned to his junior club, Hemel Stags, to help the Pennine Way outfit in their debut season in Championship 1.
He quickly became a player to watch, finishing the season with eleven tries in 16 games in all competitions for the Stags.
With such a vast turnover of players at the Broncos during the close season it looks likely that Caton-Brown will be one to watch out for at The Hive, the new Broncos’ new home ground.
Salford Red Devils
Jordan Walne (DOB: 28/12/92; SL 0+5; SL Debut 4/8/13 v Huddersfield Giants – a; Junior club: Leyland Warriors)
Not many current players will have made their first-team debut in Cheltenham, but the City Reds’ (as they then were) Challenge Cup tie against the All Golds provided that opportunity for Jordan Walne.
The younger of the two Walne brothers on Salford’s books, he went on to make his Super League debut at Huddersfield at the beginning of August and made four further appearances in Brian Noble’s side.
Indeed 2013 was a busy year for Walne. He made eight appearances on loan to Workington Town and two for Championship One side Oldham.
A strong running left-hand side second row, he may have to bide his time, as he is in the pecking order behind Gareth Hock. But he has served a good apprenticeship in the Salford and Wigan Academy systems.
Anthony Walker (DOB: 28/12/1991; SL 4+5; SL Debut 23/2/13 v Bradford Bulls – a; Junior club: Blackbrook Royals)
Anthony Walker made his Super League debut for St Helens as early as the Round 4 encounter at Bradford, but then injury restricted his opportunities.
He was in good form, and in Nathan Brown’s side ahead of the more experienced Josh Perry until injured against Wigan Warriors in the traditional Good Friday meeting.
His ankle injury kept him sidelined until he returned to Super League action at the beginning of August in the away trip to Catalan Dragons, although he played for partnership club Whitehaven in the lead-up to his Super League return.
Walker was one of four new caps for Wales in the World Cup. He scored on his debut against the USA and also appeared against the Cook Islands.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats
Daniel Smith (DOB: 20/3/1993; SL 0; SL Debut N/A; Junior club: Lock Lane)
The young, former Leeds Rhinos prop forward spent a year in Australia with South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2013, playing for their Under-20s side, before returning to link up with the Wildcats.
Smith left both the Rhinos and South Sydney when he became too old for their age-group rugby. But he has plenty of potential, having previously represented England Academy.
With the loss of Justin Poore and Kyle Amor during the close-season, Smith can realistically expect to enjoy plenty of game time in the 2014 season, unlike some of the other players on these pages.
Matty Russell (DOB: 6/6/93; SL 8+0; SL Debut 5/5/12Hull v Leeds -h; Junior club: Ince Rose Bridge)
Matty Russell would probably have been in line for a nomination at this stage 12 months ago had he not opted to join Australian club Gold Coast Titans.
When leaving the UK Russell had already bagged Super League experience with Wigan Warriors and Hull FC and Championship exposure with Leigh Centurions. He returns to the domestic game not just with the benefit of 12 months in Australia, but with four appearances for Scotland in the World Cup, where he continually caught the eye.
It isn’t often that a full international player is still a rookie, and Russell must surely be one of the favourites to win this season’s award.
Liam Carberry (DOB: 24/2/1993; SL 0; SL Debut N/A; Junior club: Bold Amateurs)
Widnes fans have already had a taste of the potential of Carberry, who joined the Vikings ahead of the 2014 season and put in a man-of-the-match performance in the Festive warm-up game against Warrington Wolves.
Carberry was highly thought of at Wigan Warriors when he came through their Academy system, but an anterior cruciate ligament injury meant that he suffered an 18-month lay-off.
An England Academy international who can play at hooker or loose forward, he played one game for South Wales Scorpions in 2012 on dual-registration and will be looking to make up for lost time in 2014.
Joe Burgess (DOB: 14/10/1994; SL 2+0; SL Debut v 2/8/13 v Hull KR – h; Junior club: Ince Rose Bridge)
A highly talented winger, Joe Burgess will look to hold off competition from fellow Warriors rookie winger Dominic Manfredi if a wing spot comes available in Wigan’s senior side in 2014.
Burgess has the added advantage of having played centre, and the England Academy player has earned rave reviews throughout his youth career with the Warriors.
Shaun Wane has never been afraid to give youngsters an opportunity with the Warriors and Burgess could be at the head of a number of players knocking on the door of the head coach looking for just such a chance.