The Rookies who made the grade

One of the features that many readers tell me they most look forward to at this time of the year is our annual survey of young rookies who are waiting to make their mark on Rugby League in the forthcoming season.

This year’s survey, in which we spotlight one player from each of the Super League clubs, can be found on pages 14 and 15 of this issue.

How many of the twelve young players we have listed will eventually make the grade is difficult to be sure about.

If we look back at previous years, for example, we will find that some players who became very big names indeed are mixed in with other players whose careers didn’t really take off.

For example, eleven years ago, in January 2012, we also listed twelve players who we thought might break through to become stars of the game.

Our selections were John Bateman (Bradford Bulls), James Clare (Castleford Tigers), Mathias Pala (Catalans Dragons), Adam Walker (Huddersfield Giants), Danny Nicklas (Hull FC), Jordan Cox (Hull Kingston Rovers), Liam Hood (Leeds Rhinos), Kieran Dixon (London Broncos), Niall Evalds (Salford City Reds, as they then were), Nathan Ashe (St Helens), Kyle Trout (Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, as they then were), Gareth O’Brien (Warrington Wolves), Grant Gore (Widnes Vikings) and Jack Hughes (Wigan Warriors).

The outstanding player among all those was of course John Bateman, who we would adjudge the Albert Goldthorpe Rookie of the Year at the end of that season.

But it’s interesting also to note how many players show initial promise but fail to break through into the first team and then fade away and eventually leave the game.

The fact is that rookies tend to get opportunities only when established players suffer injuries.

A recent example is Lewis Dodd at St Helens, who got his chance in 2021 when Theo Fages was injured and then never looked back. But what would have happened if Fages hadn’t been injured?

What frustrates me sometimes is when young English players are blocked by overseas players.

If you read the interview with RL Commercial Chairman Frank Slevin on page 3 of this issue, he makes the point that clubs have to rein in their costs to balance their books.

Surely one of the most obvious ways to do this would be to reduce the overseas quota to give some of our younger players a chance to make a mark and develop their careers and enhance their earning potential.

The alternative is that they will surely head to the NRL in ever greater numbers, where the salary cap is rising quickly and the earning potential of even the most inexperienced players is likely to be far greater than in Super League, particularly when a Super League club might be spending more than half of its salary cap on former NRL players.

We are at the stage where drastic action has to be taken, sooner rather than later.

This article comes from Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column in this week’s issue of League Express. You can take out a subscription by going to