With Wests Tigers full squad set for a return to training on Monday, a group of young guns and new players have already enjoyed a head start with a fortnight's worth of action under their belt.
A range of new young players have enjoyed their first fortnight at Wests Tigers as they look to continue their journey towards an NRL debut.
Two of club's 2021 Development players — Reece Hoffman and William Kei — were joined by a handful of talented youngsters in the club's 2021 SG Ball and Jersey Flegg sides as the initial group of players began pre-season training.
Promising forwards Henry O'Kane and Brandon Tumeth will both carry on training with the extended squad for several weeks before dropping back to their regular SG Ball training at Balmain.
Kelma Tuilagi is expected to arrive next week after an extended break following his commitments with the Melbourne Storm in season 2020.
For the club's three Development players, however, the fortnight is key as they embark on the full pre-season campaign with the regular NRL squad.
Under the stipulations of Development contracts, all three players are permitted to train full-time with the squad but are not eligible to play first-grade throughout the season unless a special exemption is granted by the governing body.
Hoffman saw this firsthand when he was selected to debut in Round 9 of the 2020 season — scoring on debut against the South Sydney Rabbitohs — and he, along with Tuilagi and Kei, will certainly be determined to improve further in 2021.
Welcome to the NRL, Reece Hoffman
A Glenora Bears junior, Tuilagi represented the Junior Kiwis in 2018 before signing a further two-year deal with the Storm, where he featured heavily in the Intrust Super Cup competition with Easts Tigers — scoring five tries in 14 games during 2019.
Kei’s promotion to the Development squad comes after he featured in the club’s Canterbury Cup squad in 2020. Prior to that, the Bankstown Sports junior had featured in Parramatta’s junior representative sides — impressing while at the Eels to earn selection, and star, for New South Wales' junior sides.
With the signings of James Tamou, Stefano Utoikamanu, James Roberts and Joe Ofahengaue, just a handful of players will feature in Wests Tigers NRL squad this year who are yet to make their first-grade debut.
Rising star Jake Simpkin has been promoted to the full-time squad in 2021 and is now eligible for a debut, while the likes of Jock Madden, Kane Bradley and Zac Cini (who were also on Development contracts in 2020) will all be pushing hard.
Last year, five players — Alex Seyfarth, Sam McIntyre, Reece Hoffman, Shawn Blore and AJ Kepaoa — made their NRL debuts under Coach Michael Maguire, and it'll be interesting to see how many more are added to that list in 2021!