The Cumberland Throw

The Watchlist – Marata Niukore

As the countdown towards Season 2018 rolls on, I thought it worth taking a look at some of the up and comers in our playing ranks – players who are knocking on the door, but are yet to crack first grade at the Eels.

The first installment of “The Watchlist” features a name most frequently mentioned in Eels circles as the next to crack the big time; and that name belongs to 21 year old Marata Niukore.

It often gets lost in football circles just how freakishly big 21 year olds can be, particularly when you stand them next to other giants like Tony Williams and Kane Evans. Nonetheless at 6″ 2′ and 105kg, Marata’s size and brickhouse-esque shape at such a young age is nothing short of astounding. Not only would you not want to meet him in a dark alley, his gigantic frame could be the very reason said alley is covered in darkness. He is a big, athletic, aggressive looking unit.

But first, some background. Marata came to the Eels from the Warriors in 2017, originally pegged as a centre and back rower. Prior to this, Marata represented the Junior Kiwis in 2015, and then made his first class representative debut for the Cook Islands in May last year, lining up in the centres alongside NRL experienced players such as Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (you better believe I copy pasted that), Isaac John, Ersan Masters and Alex Glenn. Although scores were tied 12-12 at the break, the Kukis went down to a spirited PNG Kumuls side 30-22, including a double from PNG fullback Stargroth Amean (the name ‘Stargroth’ makes him sound like a Marvel character; and just when you thought ‘Marata’ was going to be the coolest name in this article). Nonetheless, considering how far the Kumuls went in this year’s RLWC, and the lack of preparation the Kukis were granted, you can appreciate just how close Marata’s national team is to becoming a legitimate player in the international scene. But, I digress.

Although yet to feature in the top grade, Marata churned out 18 games for the Magpies last year, most often on the edges. In those 18 appearances, the man Forty20 likes to call “Hakuna” scored two tries, had a linebreak, 5 linebreak assists, and 10 offloads; on occasion even putting in a sneaky grubber kick or two. A solid but admittedly not spectacular set of statistics. “So what’s the big deal?” I hear you collectively ask.

Outside of his Incredible Hulk impersonation, what’s most impressive about Niukore is his 2017 average of 117.4 running metres per game. As you can see in the table to the right, if Niukore were able to translate those numbers to the NRL (admittedly against much stiffer opposition), he would have found himself as our third most metre eater, only behind certified superstars Semi Radradra and Nathan Brown. Particularly for a 21 year old, such numbers go some way toward indicating Marata’s outrageous potential. This has not gone unnoticed by Eels coaching staff, as Marata was awarded the 2017 Bob O’Reilly NSW Cup Player of the Year Award. Similarly, Marata now finds himself (and his gigantic frame) in consideration as a middle forward, moving on from his previous manifestations as an edge or backline player.

Statistic translations aside, what’s just as pressing is who on earth BA could possibly leave out of the current 17 to give him a shot. Without leaving myself too vulnerable to the inevitable criticism of being off the mark, I’ve got class forwards such as Siosaia Vave, Suaia Matagi, Peni Terepo, Kaysa Pritchard and Brad Takairangi already missing out on a spot in our starting 17. Injuries might strike for one or two, but he’s going to have to seriously outplay several names on that list to get the nod.

The good news is that there is still plenty of room for improvement. Marata’s 2017 tackle efficiency for Wenty (90.4%) would have placed him at 16th in the squad, only above Rory O’Brien in the forwards. Although this is only about halfway down the entire squad list, it’s no doubt a concern for a future forward, particularly as again these numbers come against ISP competition. In short, Niukore still has a bit of work to do on the defensive side of the ball.

Already known for his ferocious charges and brutal hits in defence, adding an offload and quicker play the ball would also aid Marata’s ascension into a first grade jersey.

Even before this article, if you follow us on Twitter (@EelsTCT), you’ll have seen me already talking up Marata as a dark horse for the 17 at some point this season. Yet when all those names, with all their respective talent and experience, get written down on paper, short of an injury crisis of biblical proportions, it’s still pretty difficult to see his path to the top grade in 2018.

At least with such an accomplished supporting cast, when Marata’s time in the top grade does come, the talent he will have needed to push past will have meant he’s definitely earned it.

Here at The Throw, we’ll be watching.

Go you Eels,

Mitch.

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Ecniv
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Ecniv

Mitch, I was at the Eels/St George match in Wollongong and I think Wenty played on that day if my memory serves me right.

I was wondering who this huge forward who was running like a train at the defence and when I finally caught his jersey number, I realised it was Marata. I was hoping last year he would get a run in 1st grade if there were injuries. Alas, it didn’t happen, but I was impressed by his game. I didn’t realise he is so young. I think he has a big future ahead of him, touch wood.

Vince

Colin Hussey
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Colin Hussey

Nice article Mitch, he is certainly a player of the future, like you I have doubts as to whether he will make the top side this year, beyond is another matter. The problem though is that with 21 players off contract end of this year and Marata being one of 14 forwards in that list, he needs to really step up for the club more especially at Wenty, thing is though is if he does step up and realise his ability, I think that he could well garner some outside attention from other clubs. Out of the 14, I see… Read more »

John Eel
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John Eel

Col it seems Mitch is going to do a few of these younger players for his watch list and it will show good depth in hooking with Mahoney prominent

As you point out there is going to be some tough decisions made at the end of this season

Glad it is not my job to trim the list

Pou
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Pou

The thing about having so many players off contract is that our depth is likely to be nowhere near as good in 2019, meaning we will need plenty of minimum salary backups. Guys like Niukore will probably typify our squad members outside the top 17.

John Eel
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John Eel

Not wishing to be a wet blanket but as we go forward with all of this depth the biggest problem is going to be hanging onto it long term as they start to get impatient for a start in the NRL

I have no doubt that BA will be well aware of who he needs to sign long term

Marata is a big man and I would love to see him get a couple of starts to see how he goes. Seems destined to be a middle forward more than an edge player by the looks

Colin Hussey
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Colin Hussey

John its my concern that having some young talented forwards that have bided their time with the eels for a couple of years, may get restless and go elsewhere, sooner rather than later, and Marata is one of the 5 I would be getting behind closed doors right now with extended contracts ready for them, but they need to get in a line behind the Coach as he is still the key to the future.

Colin Hussey
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Colin Hussey

? I admit to not seeing many games, therefore I have to base my opinion on people who do go to games and provide good feed back on players on how they perform in both games as well as at training. What I glean from those reports I can give a fair opinion on the players. As for the coach not accepting 99% but only accepting 100%, I think you might find that the coach and his staff have somewhat of different opinion as to those figures compared to how the supporter and fan base think the staff apply their… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Forward stocks are becoming a bit congested but age and condition of body and value for money will define the roster colin im just glad its not my call , the good thing about it though is after 4 seasons weve reached a point of choices instead of desperation , eg carl webb , shakelton etc , i trust the judgement of those who have returned us to this position

Colin Hussey
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Colin Hussey

I have a real desire to see the names you mentioned pass into history with no further mention of them.

I don’t disagree with you re the aspect of choices, and why I have said out of the 14 forwards off contract end of this year I could only see 5 as being up for renewal. Of the others they, along with the 5 all need to lift for the season in front of them, in essence they are all playing for their careers.

Which ones have the most to lose? is the question, the older ones or younger ones?

Pou
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Pou

Great stuff Mitch. This is a good start to a series of articles I am very keen for.

Offside
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Offside

Interestingly enough i was talking to a mate who is loosely affiliated with the club marata shapes as one of the loosers in the hayne return if speculation is to be believed hayne will play centre that will move takka to second row and morea to bench etc etc.
Marata was very close to playing grade last year was in the match day 19 a few times but players like him go back 1 step with positional changes and changes to depth
That being said i think he could force his way in with some luck

Milo
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Milo

Great read Mitch, he will no doubt he in line for a berth at some point. Can he play in the middle?

sixties
Admin

I’ve watched quite a bit of Marata at training and at Wenty. I believe he has the size to play in the middle, but maybe that versatlity could see him emerge as a bench player. The challenge for Marata is to bring his standards from last year into 2018. If he improves on last year, he’s in with a shot.

Milo
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Milo

Yes i recall he is a fair size and i was wondering if he added a few kgs he could be a middle fwd. Interesting times to see how he steps up….i hope they have invested in benches for spectators at salesyards; no doubt the weather will warm back up.

Colin Hussey
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Colin Hussey

On some reflection, I wonder if the coach has not had one on one talks with each player in the main train on squad and laid it on the line of what he expects from them through the season. With that being a paramount part of where the club is going. I noticed this morning a comment from Ivan Cleary about the oversized back that has gone to the dogs, Cleary said that the player was not fitting into the new culture that he was bringing to the Tigers. I would think that is something desired of all clubs and… Read more »

Ron
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Ron

Great read, Miatch

Keep it up!

Rowdy
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Rowdy

Terrific insight Mitch. What a great new concept “The Watchlist” mate. Having watched much Marata at Wenty last season, I can confirm your point about his defense leaving a bit to be desired. This was also evident in his games for the Kukis as you called them. At the time I thought he may have been caught out because he was playing at centre as much as the fact the much of the opposition was of a higher standard than NSW Cup ISP standard? The fact that we have such good depth this year is well noted as is the… Read more »

sixties
Admin

Rowdy, I reckon that defensive issue was two- fold.
1. First season out of NYC – not a great learning ground for defence.
2. Coming from the Warriors – ditto
A second pre-season could be the making of his defence.

Colin Hussey
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Colin Hussey

1 & 2 ditto.

3: The ball is in his court.