Country rugby league’s best young players will be on show as the Andrew Johns and Laurie Daley Cup campaigns get underway this weekend. See our full list of the 65 players to watch this season.
REGIONAL New South Wales’ best young rugby league talent is just days away from taking centre stage.
The Andrew Johns Cup (U16s) and Laurie Daley Cup (U18s) returns for another season as teams from across the state battle it out for the right to be crowned as kings of the country.
In anticipation of round one, NewsLocal looks at the 65 players to watch in both competitions this year.
ANDREW JOHNS CUP
Kyran Blair (Newcastle Maitland Region Knights): A versatile player who can slot in at fullback or in the halves. Got the chance to train with the Newcastle Harold Matts side in the pre-season.
Fletcher O’Doherty (Newcastle Maitland Region Knights): A strong back-rower who is a Dudley and Souths junior. Along with Blair spent the pre-season with the Harold Matts. A good prospect.
Toby Batten (North Coast Bulldogs): A promising young halfback who is no stranger to the representative scene, having lined up for NSW U12s previously. Has a good footy head on his shoulders.
Jett Hansen (North Coast Bulldogs): Gets the opportunity to start at lock and will get through plenty of work in the middle of the field for the Bulldogs. Looks to have a promising future.
Jonah Moss (Western Rams): The Narromine lock represented the Indigenous U16s and has all the makings of a country Cam Murray. Good with the ball but willing to roll the sleeves up.
Jayden Innes (Western Rams): Has won the battle for the number one jersey and the Orange product will make full use of it. Shown plenty of ability to impress club officials.
Rex Bassingthwaighte (Western Rams): Completed a pre-season with the Penrith Panthers and come back to the Rams in strong order. Can play at either fullback or in the halves.
Matari Kelly (Western Rams): The Indigenous Blues representative has jumped up out of the ground. Comes with plenty of game sense, speed around the ruck and a positive attitude.
Isaac Fotu-Moala (Central Coast Roosters): A very talented five-eighth who plays what he sees in front of him, often with great success. Earned a contract with the Sydney Roosters.
Jai Callaghan (Central Coast Roosters): Got the chance to represent the NSW CHS at fullback and has shown the Central Coast a lot of promise in the pre-season.
Darcy Sinclair Smith (Central Coast Roosters): Stepped up last year when making the NSW CCC rep side. Officials are looking for him to bring that form when he lines up in the back row.
Riley Ilham (Central Coast Roosters): The Knox Grammar student is contracted to the Sydney Roosters and has the ability to play prop or lock. A hard worker in the middle.
Ryan Tukapua (Central Coast Roosters): Not a big hooker but good a what he does and plays well above his weight. Shining on the training paddock and ready to execute on game day.
Jack Talbott (Illawarra South Coast Dragons): A pre-season with Harold Matts and an AFL background makes him a very intriguing prospect. Lethal and fast player with a good kicking game.
Axel Antony (Illawarra South Coast Dragons): Is an exceptionally fit lock forward who doesn’t stop working. A leader, both on the park and in training. Has good leg speed and takes the hard carries.
Beau Baldock (Illawarra South Coast Dragons): A five-eighth with a big body and great leadership skills. Has a useful kicking game that will get his team on the front foot.
Sonny Kilduff (Northern Rivers Titans): Part of a very strong Titans forward pack. Kilduff is a front rower who can take the hard yards but also provide second-phase play.
Antwone Quinlan-Randall (Northern Rivers Titans): Has thrived since being selected in the NSW U16s Korri team. A real leader in the forwards who charges from the front.
Ashley Watts (Northern Rivers Titans): Really stood out at the selection trials, maintaining that form through the pre-season. A fit front rower who loves getting his hands on the ball.
Paul Johnston (Macarthur Wests Tigers): Is a big, powerful winger who makes a lot of damaging runs. Still has a bit to learn about it, but has the potential to be unstoppable.
Reece Josephson (Northern Tigers): A Cobar player who is a natural fullback but able to play anywhere in the backline. Gets the nod to wear the number one jersey in the opener.
Darcy Wallace (Northern Tigers): Trains hard and is also capable of wearing the fullback jersey. Starts the year and centres and will prove tough to hold out on an edge.
Dustin Wyrzykowski (Northern Tigers): The Tigers captain who leads from the front. A Bathurst back rower who sets an example for his team with his work in attack and defence.
Arthur Smith (Riverina Bulls): An imposing figure with an engine to match. Been really strong in training, brings a good attitude and will excel against the better opposition.
Bailey Piper (Riverina Bulls): A versatile talent who can fill a number of roles from hooker, lock or in the halves. Regarded as a natural footy player who can make things happen.
Nic Bett (Riverina Bulls): Really impressed officials in the trials. Stands at 6’3”, can play a number of positions from the back row to the wing, and is a determined player looking for a shot.
Jamie Cowling (Monaro Colts): Goulburn based and is the captain/halfback of this side. Has a good kicking and passing game, not scared to tackle bigger players and a real leader of young men.
Pat Koen (Monaro Colts): The Yass front rower is still quite raw, but willing to learn about what it takes to make a difference. If he puts it together he can be one of the premier middles.
Koby Anderson (Monaro Colts): The hooker makes a big difference to the Riverina side. A skilful player who picks the right option and has the ability to get across the stripe from close.
Aaron Paea (Macarthur Wests Tigers): Made the fullback spot his own despite trialling at five-eighth. Not the biggest player, but packs plenty of punch with his pace off the mark.
PJ French (Macarthur Wests Tigers): A giant front rower standing at over six-foot tall. Leads the defensive line with his speed, as well as being strong, mobile and a tough player.
Will Jenkins (Macarthur Wests Tigers): Plays in the second row and impressed during the trials. Has the potential to be a key member if he can remain consistent throughout 2023.
LAURIE DALEY CUP
Zeek Falkner (Newcastle Maitland Region Knights): The outside back has plenty of potential, is very dangerous when given space and enjoyed a pre-season with the Newcaslte U19s.
Cody Hancock (Newcastle Maitland Region Knigts): A flying winger who will find himself on the end of plenty of tries, is a strike weapon who also trained with the Knights in SG Ball.
Lachlan Mifsud (North Coast Bulldogs): The captain of the Malta U17s can fill a number of positions in the forward pack, and is a tough competitor who gets his team rolling forward.
Robbie Inglis (North Coast Bulldogs): The nephew of league legend Greg Inglis, Robbie will line up at fullback. Comes into this competition on the back of a good season with Macleay Valley.
Harrison Brennan (North Coast Bulldogs): Will captain the North Coast in 2023 at lock. Has experience in the front row at U18s level so will have no problems adjusting to this grade.
Connor Vardanega (Western Rams): An up and coming back rower who is in the Penrith system and will lead the Rams this year. Has an unmatched work ethic and hits hard in defence.
Kaydden Hoad (Western Rams): A classy player who is also talented at touch. Will line up at halfback and has all the necessary tools with a good kicking game and taking the line on.
Fletcher Hunt (Western Rams): The calming influence at five-eighth, Hunt is en exceptional communicator who can steer the team around the park with his energy.
Riley Bourke (Central Coast Roosters): The versatile fullback/five-eighth has shown a lot of ability during the pre-season. Fleet-footed and can sniff out a try from anywhere.
Zac Gillett (Central Coast Roosters): A tough dummy half who will tackle anything near him. A very strong defender who has a tenacity to compete on every play.
James Miller (Central Coast Roosters): Has been the long-time captain of the side who was heavily missed last year. Captained the Country team previously and is a hardworking lock.
Zack Visconti (Central Coast Roosters): Brings a no-nonsense attitude to the prop position, Coming along in leaps and bounds and would be no surprise if he gets an SG Ball call up.
Talu Tausala (Illawarra South Coast Dragons): A big man in the front row who played through a broken thumb and even scored during a trial. A committed player with a huge engine on him.
Jackson Rieck (Illawarra South Coast Dragons): Takes on the fullback position and adds a new dynamic to the Dragons there. Is super fast, agile and can break the line at will.
Jarrah Treweek (Illawarra South Coast Dragons): Adds a very tall frame and big set of skills in the back row. His first rep experience and he is ready to show everyone he belongs at this level.
Zane Harrison (Northern Rivers Titans): Was part of the Junior Blues camp and is a highly-regarded prospect in the halves. A very good game manager who is tough as nails as well.
Brady Turner and Taylor Withington (Northern Rivers Titans): The duo will lead the charge in the forwards after getting a taste of local first grade last year. Withington has been named captain of the side at lock.
Callum Bowles (Northern Rivers Titans): Has shifted from five-eighth to an edge in the second row and centres. A tall and strong player who looks very suited in his new role.
Logan Spinks (Northern Tigers): Has linked with the Bulldogs and will be looking for a huge season to catch their eye. Named as captain and provides a good line in the second row.
Dylan Keane (Northern Tigers): One of the year young players in the side, but is up to this age having won an U18s grand final with Scone. Partners his skipper in the second row.
Cooper Meldrum (Northern Tigers): Really impressed club officials with how well he has gone in the pre-season. Gets the nod at centre and will perform very strongly this year.
Beniel Dakunibubului (Riverina Bulls): The Fijian talent plays in the middle as a front rower and brings experience from Harold Matthews with Canberra. Can be a wrecking ball in this comp.
Sam Graziani (Riverina Bulls): A fullback who was in the Raiders SG Ball squad. Will harness that experience at the back, as well as using his talking and organising skills.
McKinley Hamblin (Riverina Bulls): Plays in the middle and fits into this system very well. Brings a good attitude and despite not playing in the U16s, has shown he belongs.
Noah Killeen (Riverina Bulls): Was in that same Canberra side and will relish playing at this level. A lock forward with the ability to take on the line and set up his fellow players.
Max Mercer (Monaro Colts): The second rower brigs a wealth of energy and chat, as well as being super strong out on an edge. Has a good ball carry and is exceptional in defence.
Xavier Caccioti (Monaro Colts): Plays at hooker. Brings the perfect combination of being strong defensively but is also very handy with the ball. Has a great football intelligence.
Jayden Svager (Monaro Colts): Brings one of the most imposing figures in the grade standing at 6’2” and over 100kg. Has plenty of first grade experience and can make a huge impact.
Zac Gibson (Macarthur Wests Tigers): The half will feature in his second year of Daley Cup. Not overly big but has plenty of pace, as well as taking on the bigger boys head on in defence.
Luke Prebble (Macarthur Wests Tigers): A raw talent but has a massive engine and a willingness to help out the team in any way possible. Has the makings to push on further.
Cooper Mangan (Macarthur Wests Tigers): The pacy fullback still has a bit to learn but his support play and sweeping in defence is a big asset the Tigers will call upon this year.
Tajh Colquhoun (Macarthur Wests Tigers): Was part of the Wests Harold Matthews Cup premiership team last year. A flying winger who is a classy finisher and outstanding prospect.
Originally published as Country league’s young stars: The 65 players set to ignite the Johns and Daley Cup 2023 seasons