Wests Tigers Coach Michael Maguire handed NRL debuts to three players last season, and will no doubt have his eyes on the young guns coming through the ranks again in 2020.
With over a quarter of Wests Tigers current NRL squad aged 21 or under, the next generation of future stars could have an important role to play in the year ahead — as shown in the season just passed through the strong performances players such as Thomas Mikaele, Oliver Clark and Tommy Talau.
Here's eight fresh faces you may or may not have heard of, but all who could make their first-grade debut for Wests Tigers in the year ahead...
Age: 19 || Position: Halfback
Signed from the Newcastle Knights ahead of the 2019 season, Jock Madden featured on a Development contract for Wests Tigers last season and will do so again in 2020 — meaning he can't make his first-grade debut until after Round 16. Still only 19 years of age, the crafty playmaker showed maturity beyond his years in the Canterbury Cup competition and will certainly have benefited from numerous games playing with (and against) quality NRL players in reserve-grade.
Blessed with a good kicking game and game management, Madden was earmarked as a player for the future by New South Wales and steered the Blues to a good win in the 2018 U/18's State of Origin alongside current teammate Tommy Talau, before travelling overseas with the Australian Schoolboys squad. His performances for Western Suburbs in the reserve-grade competition last season showed plenty of potential and promise — scoring three tries and 15 goals from his seven games — and will no doubt hold him in good stead for the year ahead.
Madden still sits behind the likes of Luke Brooks and Benji Marshall in the halves at Wests Tigers, but could well come in to the mix given the positional fluidity that Josh Reynolds and Billy Walters could see in the year ahead. Regardless, the Scone Thoroughbreads junior is certainly one to watch for in 2020 — particularly if his development continues to make the improvements it did throughout 2019.
Age: 18 || Position: Hooker
A new face at Wests Tigers in 2020, Jake Simpkin joins the club along with Wynnum-Manly teammate Reece Hoffman (who we'll get to shortly) on a Development contract for his first season as part of an NRL squad. Simpkin was a standout in the Hastings Deering Colts competition in 2019 where he help steer the Seagulls to a Grand Final appearance thanks to his superb dummy half play.
A Southern Suburbs Tigers junior, Simpkin has already achieved a number of junior representative honours for Queensland with selection in the U/16’s side in 2017, as well in the Queensland U/18’s side that defeated New South Wales earlier in 2019.
With the retirement of Robbie Farah and a long-term injury to Jacob Liddle that will likely see the hooker miss the majority of the 2020 season, Simpkin is certainly one to watch in 2020 due to his position alone. Viewed as one of the best young dummy halves in the country, Simpkin can't play first-grade before Round 16 due to his Development contract — unless upgraded to a full-time deal beforehand — but he should certainly be a name to watch for in the back half of the season.
Age: 20 || Position: Second Row/Lock
Promoted to the full-time squad prior to the June 30 deadline last year, Alex Seyfarth will enter the 2020 season looking to replicate fellow forwards Oliver Clark and Thomas Mikaele in their progression through to the NRL side. Standing close to two metres tall, Seyfarth certainly has the frame needed to compete at the top level and he'll no doubt be eyeing off a number of impressive performances in the Canterbury Cup competition to keep staking his claim for a debut.
In his 14 appearances for Western Suburbs in 2019, Seyfarth averaged close to 100 metres on the ground as well as a 92.3% tackle efficiency rate — starring in the final game of the season with 120 metres, 35 tackles and three offloads in 72 minutes.
Capable of playing in the second row or lock, Seyfarth's biggest challenge to a debut in 2020 will likely come with the superb depth of talent available to Coach Michael Maguire in those positions. The Dundas Shamrocks junior's physical stature gives him an edge that few players have, however, so if he can continue to string quality performances together in reserve-grade to start the year, there's no reason why he won't be putting the pressure on the top squad sooner rather than later.
Age: 20 || Position: Fullback
Having progressed through his Development contract to the club's full-time squad in 2020, Australian Schoolboys representative Dylan Smith is a name to watch in the number one jersey off the back of a solid season in Canterbury Cup.
In his 17 appearances for the Magpies, Smith had a hand in eight tries and chalked up over 2,000 metres on the ground — missing only a handful of games during the middle of the season as he managed a niggling hamstring injury.
Corey Thompson will seemingly get first crack at the fullback spot given his strong performances in the position last season, but the successful shift of captain Moses Mbye to the centres could open the door for Smith down the track. As it stands, the 20-year-old is the only other specialist fullback in the NRL squad — meaning he could well have his named called throughout 2020 if an opportunity presents itself.
Age: 18 || Position: Centre
Reece Hoffman makes the trip down to Sydney alongside Wynnum-Manly teammate Jake Simpkin similarly on a Development contract for the 2020 season. A powerful young centre who could also play wing, Hoffman starred for the Queensland U/18's side in their win over New South Wales and even earned himself a call-up to the Wynnum-Manly Intrust Super Cup side in the latter rounds of the season. In his reserve-grade debut, the teenager didn't look out of place at all — ending the game with 111 metres and a try — and he'll no doubt look to build on that in 2020.
Reece Hoffman reflects on pre-season
With the departure of Esan Marsters, Wests Tigers centre stocks are a little light but Hoffman still has the likes of Moses Mbye, Tommy Talau, Robert Jennings and Paul Momirovski to contend with so a debut is unlikely early on. Given his Development contract stipulates a debut can't be made until Round 16, Hoffman seems more likely to begin the year with the club's reserve-grade squad and grow his game from training in a full-time NRL environment for the first time.
Time is well and truly on Hoffman's side going forward, so keep an eye on the well-built outside back throughout the year to see how he progresses.
Age: 19 || Position: Wing/Centre
Originally scheduled to begin his Development contract in 2020, Zac Cini's good form saw him promoted to the Development squad prior to the June 30 deadline in 2019 — a show of faith from the coaching staff in Cini's clear potential.
Cini racked up 12 tries in a strong season with the club's Jersey Flegg side and will likely look to make the step up to the Canterbury Cup side in 2020 — depending on the make-up of the side with a number of young outside backs in contention. The former Panthers junior has Australian Schoolboy experience already in his career, and is definitely one to watch for in the coming year.
Age: 21 || Position: Second Row
Entering his third season with the Wests Tigers system, Port Macquarie-born Sam McIntyre is certainly poised for his strongest season with the club yet having worked his way through Jersey Flegg to Canterbury Cup. Shifted between second row and centre due to injuries, McIntyre played 21 games for Western Suburbs throughout the year with three tries, over 600 tackles and just shy of 2,000 metres — impressive numbers given the positional changes in the team each week.
Approaching 50 reserve-grade appearances for the club in 2020, McIntyre does again have a number of quality players ahead of him in the second row stocks with the likes of Luke Garner, Chris Lawrence, Michael Chee Kam, Luciano Leilua, Chris McQueen, Josh Aloiai and Elijah Taylor all NRL-experienced back rowers in the squad. If the 21-year-old McIntyre has anything in his favour, though, it's his tremendous work ethic and fitness, and he certainly won't stop moving forward in his bid to chalk up his first-grade debut in 2020.
Age: 19 || Position: Wing/Second Row
An intriguing player for Wests in 2019, Kane Bradley's shift from second row to wing — having never played the position before — might have surprised many, but the teenager certainly took the adjustment well. Some defensive lapses could be forgiven with his learning of the new position, but his physical presence and height close to the line made him an attacking weapon like few others in the competition — registering nine tries in 17 appearances and over 120 metres per game.
Whether Bradley remains on the wing or transitions back in to the second row still remains to be seen, but with another pre-season training on the wing under his belt, 2020 looms as even stronger season for the St. George Dragons junior. Having a player over 190cm out wide is a threat that any NRL coach would like to have, so don't be surprised if Bradley — who is eligible for selection after Round 16 with his Development contract — comes in to the mix in the course of the season.