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The players to watch for each club at NRL Nines

Alongside the big names, some rising stars, fledgling first-graders and lesser lights can make a statement and even push for first-grade selection at the NRL Nines this weekend.

With the input of some players and coaches, NRL.com has chosen men from each squad with the potential to light up HBF Park on Friday and Saturday.

Players to watch

Brisbane Broncos: Tesi Niu

The 18-year-old Tesi Niu, who is on the Broncos development list, was the shining light for Tonga in their disappointing World Cup Nines display last year and then had a blinder at fullback in his Test debut against Great Britain in a 14-6 win.

He is training at fullback for the Broncos this pre-season as Jamayne Isaako's understudy where his electric pace and evasive skills are a regular feature.

"Tesi is a very competitive player with great footwork, vision and skill," Izaia Perese said.

"He played for Tonga in the Nines and was great and when he played for Tonga in the Test he showed some really nice touches. If he gets an opportunity at the NRL Nines he will be a real player to watch."

Broncos assistant coach Kurt Richards added: "Certainly he will play NRL at some stage this year."

How the Perth NRL Nines will work

Canberra Raiders: Harley Smith-Shields, Semi Valemei, Matt Timoko

Canberra have prioritised youth in their squad, naming seven players who featured in the club's 2019 Jersey Flegg grand final.

Centre Harley Smith-Shields won the NSWRL Flegg Player of the Year award and could use the Nines as a boost for a potential round one berth.

"The outside backs like Semi Valemei, Matt Timoko and Harley Smith-Shields, they're really exciting prospects," stand-in coach Andrew McFadden said.

"Looking forward to seeing how they go against some experienced guys."

Canterbury Bulldogs: Morgan Harper 

A lower-grade star for the Bulldogs, Morgan Harper made his NRL debut in round 25 last year and has the ability to stay at the top level.

The centre has displayed match-winning qualities previously and could be the man to spark something in the clutch.

Cronulla Sharks: Sione Katoa

A former rugby sevens player, Sione Katoa has already showcased his incredible athleticism and pace on the wing for the Sharks.

The 22-year-old has a penchant for scoring acrobatic tries and represented Tonga at the World Cup 9s last year.

"Sione is hard to tackle, so hopefully he brings out a few tries," Blayke Brailey said.

The players to watch in the NRL Nines

Gold Coast Titans: Tanah Boyd

Having arrived at the Titans from the Broncos late last season in search of an opportunity, 19-year-old halfback Tanah Boyd is highly rated.

A standout Nines performance may force coach Justin Holbrook's hand in choosing Boyd for round one.

"Tanah Boyd played two games at the back end of last year and he's had a fantastic pre-season and he is a really hard working player on his game," Holbrook said.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing him have a big impact in the Nines. The Nines is a big running game and Tanah has a great running game so it will be good to get him in the open spaces."

Titans young gun Tanah Boyd.
Titans young gun Tanah Boyd. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

Many Sea Eagles: Luke Metcalf

A knee injury cruelled Luke Metcalf's 2019 but the dynamic playmaker is fit again and tipped to thrive with the space of Nines.

"One younger player who has been training well and is electric is Luke Metcalf," Reuben Garrick said.

"He's a lightning half/fullback which I'd like to see in the Nines format."

Melbourne Storm: Brenko Lee

Having played for three other clubs and represented Tonga, Brenko Lee boasts a fair amount of top-flight experience and has played Nines before.

"Lee is a brilliant attacker who has got great footwork and will have a point to prove," Christian Welch said.

"We are the same age, so we came through playing under-20s at the same time and he was the best player in the competition at the time with Canberra.

"He has been through a bit of adversity and is primed for a big year."

Golden oldie set to light up the Nines?

Newcastle Knights: Kurt Mann

Able to play multiple positions comfortably, the playmaking Kurt Mann will be a valuable asset to his side's campaign.

"He's pretty quick and pretty agile and knows his footy," Gehamat Shibasaki said.

"I'd also like to see Sione Mata'utia there because he's really a big, mobile forward who'd be hard to catch."

New Zealand Warriors: Rocco Berry

The son of former All Black Marty Berry, 19-year-old fullback or centre Rocco Berry has great pedigree and has shown huge potential.

"I just think he has got that flow about him where he can just pop up anywhere," Isaiah Papali'i said.

"He has got that game sense and I can't wait to see him play this weekend and I am sure he will go well."

North Queensland Cowboys: Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow

Hype is bubbling up north around Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, who is on the Cowboys' development list this season.

Tall and rangy, the 18-year-old fullback is deceptively speedy and has natural football instincts.

"He came through the ranks at the club, had a good year at the Blackhawks in the under-20s and had a really good year," Kyle Feldt said.

"He's electric the way he glides across the field, it's scary the way he runs at training. He looks like he's jogging but he's putting gaps in defenders so it would be good to see him at the Nines get a chance to play against men."

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow in action for the Queensland under-18 side.
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow in action for the Queensland under-18 side. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Parramatta Eels: Rhys Davies

A hooker or halfback who was been playing his trade in the Canterbury Cup, Rhys Davies has broken into Parramatta's top squad having set conditioning benchmarks this pre-season.

Davies set up 15 tries and scored four himself for Wentworthville last year and will be another playmaking option at the Nines.

"We've actually got Rhys Davies who got upgraded to the top 30. He's the new go-to man when it comes to fitness. You've got to watch out for him," Dylan Brown said.

"He's definitely up there [fitness-wise], he's one fit kid and very strong so watch out for him this season."

Penrith Panthers: Stephen Crichton

He only played four NRL matches last season but it was clear why Stephen Crichton has been billed as a bona fide first-grader.

Don't be surprised to regularly see the athletic centre in the clear.

Panthers winger Stephen Crichton.
Panthers winger Stephen Crichton. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

South Sydney Rabbitohs: Damien Cook, Braidon Burns

Such is South Sydney's wealth of speed and skill that Campbell Graham couldn't pinpoint just one teammate he thinks will excel at the Nines.

"Obviously you want Damien Cook there [and] we've got some exciting runners like Braidon Burns ... who just eat up metres so beautifully," Graham said.

St George Illawarra Dragons: Adam Clune

Adam Clune, 24, has been on the scene for a while without cracking the NRL.

After a sensational Canterbury Cup season last year, the halfback is on a development contract and has impressed teammates.

Who is the NRL Nines team to beat?

"His ball-playing skills are second to none. He's really impressed me with his leadership, too. It's only his first [NRL] pre-season but he's leading the team around," Euan Aitken said.

"Obviously he's not exactly a young guy coming from 20s, but he's showing that leadership and he's not scared to speak up."

Sydney Roosters: Asu 'AJ' Kepaoa

Asu Kepaoa is a powerful metre-eater who can use the Nines to press his claims for a place in Trent Robinson's NRL backline.

Despite an injury-affected 2019, the 20-year-old winger averaged 168 metres and scored five tries in 14 Canterbury Cup appearances for North Sydney.

Asu 'AJ' Kepaoa in action for the Bears in 2019.
Asu 'AJ' Kepaoa in action for the Bears in 2019. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Wests Tigers:  Tommy Talau, Alex Seyfarth

Robust centre Talau gave fans a glimpse of his talents in 2019 when he debuted in the NRL and is primed to excel with room to move at the Nines.

Mobile forwards are invaluable in the shortened format and David Nofoaluma believes Alex Seyfarth can be effective.

"Tommy Talau, he stands out. Alex Seyfarth, a prop. Those two really stand out," Nofoaluma said.

"The way they've been going I think they're going to have a great opportunity. Alex has shown a lot of good potential so I'm looking forward to seeing Alex in the future representing the club."

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