Every year, the rugby public get to see the latest talent that the Australian Super Rugby franchises have managed to unearth in the off season.
The likes of Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale and David Pocock all seamlessly transitioned at a young age from schoolboy footy to successfully plying their trade in arguably the hardest competition in world rugby.
This year is no different with many gifted youngsters potentially set to grace our TV screens in the coming months, making this an ideal time to highlight some of the current crop.
To shorten my long list of names, a player must fit the following criteria:
- Is aged 20 or younger
- Has played less than 2 Super Rugby games
- Hasn’t appeared (or is unlikely to appear) in the starting lineup.
So no Jordan Petaia, Harry Hoopert, Tate McDermott or Rob Valentini, who are already established members of their sides.
Len Ikitau (Position: Centre – Age: 20)
Len Ikitau is a hard-running, former Australian Schoolboy centre who is on the verge of Super Rugby selection in 2019.
After being picked up by the Brumbies straight after school, Ikitau has had a streamlined path to the top grade through the Brumbies academy.
A balanced runner who isn’t afraid to do the hard yards in attack, Ikitau has the ability to break tackles at ease, although it’s his defensive ability that catches the eye.
Ikitau possesses an amazing tackle technique, particularly his late dip, allowing him to generate power and drive through the tackle contest.
2 NRC campaigns and a Rising Star award in round 7 last year, Ikitau has shown he is ready for the step up into Super Rugby.
The challenge will be difficult given a certain Tevita Kuridrani is in front of him but Ikitau is up to the task.
Mack Hansen (Position: Fullback/Flyhalf – Age: 20)
After shining in the John Dent Cup, 2018 was Hansen’s first to dip his toe in the professional waters and the 19-year old went on to represent the Australian u20’s, impressing from fullback.
An old school rugby brain without a big flashy step or unseen strength, Hansen’s talent is the ability to unlock others. A rare players player, who at his best, brings the rest of the team with him.
The fullback/flyhalf had an excellent campaign with the Junior Wallabies in France, showcasing his eye for the try line on several occasions.
The sky is the limit for Hansen and if an injury strikes Banks or Muirhead, Hansen could make his debut for the Canberrans.
Honorable Mentions: Tom Ross (Prop), Bayley Kuenzle (Flyhalf/Inside Centre)
Patrick Tafa (Position: Blindside Flanker/no.8 – Age: 19)
Coming from a rugby family, Patrick Tafa’s father represented Manu Samoa.
Much is also expected of Tafa, an absolute specimen at 194cm and 114kg, and he is now in contention for NSW after making the switch from Queensland.
Tafa is everything you’re searching for in a number 8 or flanker. A big, bustling, tackle breaking ball carrier who has the tenacity to burst through any defence but also the deft hands of an outside back.
A Wycliff Palu clone, the Waratahs will be hoping for a big year from the no.8 to fill their ongoing hole in that position.
If Tafa can pick up his work rate in the Shute Shield, look for him to be included on the Waratahs bench later in the year.
Will Harrison (Position: Flyhalf – Age: 19)
Darryl Gibson earmarked Harrison as a star for the future earlier this year but there is a chance we will see a sneak peak in 2019.
Will Harrison is a dangerous fly-half who possesses all the skills required to round himself into a world class fly-half.
Having trained with the Waratahs for most of 2018, Harrison spent the back half of the NRC guiding the Sydney team around the park and all eyes will be on his performances in Shute Shield in his first full season in first grade.
Harrison likes to take the ball to the line and play flat, characteristics which allow you to provide space for your ball carriers and outside backs.
Having skippered the Australian Schoolboys two years ago, the 19 year old is already in an enviable position of being just one injury away from making the Waratahs 23.
Honorable Mentions: Ben Donaldson (Fullback/Flyhalf) and James Ramm (Wing)
Fraser McReight (Position: Openside Flanker – Age: 20)
Fraser McReight is another openside flanker in the Queensland production line, following in the footsteps of David Pocock, Liam Gill and most recently Liam Wright.
A player that has been closely followed by many talent scouts since school, McReight represented Queensland and Australia at all age groups and is now looking to take his talents further.
Playing NRC for Brisbane City in 2018, McReight proved he was up to the challenge.
Dominant in the tackle contest, McReight’s go to skill is the jackal and proved to be a menace at the breakdown, a true compliment.
McReight’s also has an underrated ball carry and picked up 142 metres in just 36 carries in the NRC, with his skill on the ground allowing him to gain every last metre of his 100kg frame.
With George Smith now gone and Brad Thorn trusting his younger cohort, McReight is strongly in line for at least a bench spot and seems that he is only 1 injury away from being in contention for a starting place.
Watch this space.
Harry Wilson (Position: Back Row/Second Row – Age: 20)
Hailing from Tamworth in rural New South Wales, Wilson is a competitive country boy.
After 2 years of representing Queensland and Australia at schoolboy level, Wilson moved straight into Queensland Premier Rugby for Brothers.
One standout season later and after being named the U19 Player of the year in QPR, Wilson was rewarded with a fulltime Super Rugby contract.
An athletic player with incredible offloading ability, his dangerous running game means defenses often have to commit a number of players to deal with him, creating space for teammates.
Comfortable in the second or back row, if Wilson can improve the defensive aspect of his game, there is no doubt he will continue his development and be rewarded with an opportunity on the big stage.
Honorable mentions: Jack Hardy (Centre/Wing), Isaac Lucas (Utility back)
Trevor Hosea (Position: Second Row – Age: 19)
Trevor Hosea is a giant.
Standing at 203cm and 115kg, Hosea is an imposing figure who is just starting to build into his extremely large frame in just his second season since finishing school in 2018.
A local Melbourne product, Hosea has all the raw physical attributes to be something special and if the Rebels teach him how to use his gifts, look out.
Naturally, his lineout work forms a major part of his repertoire and provides a point of difference to many young locks who are still learning the tricks of the trade.
Looking at his trial form with the starting XV, Hosea has proven to be a ferocious ball carry who provides plenty of go-ahead and he isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and do the dirty work.
Much like Wilson at the Reds, if Hosea can pick up his defensive workload, look for him to jag a bench spot.
Esei Ha’angana (Position: Back Row/Second Row – Age: 19)*
The other side of the coin to Hosea is big Esei Ha’angana, another absolute specimen.
The young backrower possesses raw power and mental toughness which makes him a coaches favourite.
Not afraid to make his tackles and chime in with ball carries, Ha’angana also excels at ruck time with his abrasive clean out.
Representing Australia in the junior pathways, Ha’angana is the Rebels youngest ever debutant at just 18 years and 15 days.
Having started on the bench in round 1, it’s clear he has impressed the Rebels coaching staff enough to snag a spot ahead of some quality players.
If Ha’angana can work on the technical aspects of both the lineout and scrum, look for him to become an absolute beast.
Honorable mentions: Sione Tui (Outside back)
*Note* Although Ha’angana is technically ineligible seeing as he has played 5 matches, we included him as he is one to watch this season.
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