Part 2 of the 2023 Rookie Watch is here as we take a gander at the fine young men and women of the Jersey Flegg and NRLW Development squads. Limiting myself to just five players in the Jersey Flegg proved to be difficult as there were plenty more worthy of a write-up including the likes of Matthew Komolafe, Jabriel Kalache, Cody Parry, Jontay-Junior Betham-Mesa and more. The pool of players in the NRLW Development Squad is quite a bit smaller, such is the nature of the squad, but there is some serious talent there to be excited about.
The third and final Rookie Watch post will focus on the NSW Cup and the players closest to making an impact in the NRL!
Jock Brazel – Edge
An ACL injury completely wiped out Jock Brazel’s 2022 before it had a chance to begin. That is a cruel blow for any young player but perhaps even more so for this particular young edge forward who was entering this season with what amounted to a tidal wave of momentum. Brazel was fresh off a stellar 2021 season where his individual honours included selection in the Australian Schoolboy Merit Team and Brad Fitler’s star-studded Future Blues program.
Brazel is built very much in the mould of the modern edge forward. Big, mobile and athletic. All the raw tools you need or want are there. He was a damaging presence in both the SG Ball and schoolboy represented footy in 2021 but the biggest question facing the talented backrower now is how he will handle the transition to the senior leagues. He will eligible to start 2023 in the Jersey Flegg and will have a full additional year of eligibility in the U21s beyond that. I think he can be a much bigger factor than that but given he is returning from a major knee injury I am more than happy for him to build steadily in his return.
And thus, while he was temporarily gone after the ACL injury he was the furthest thing from forgotten. His return to the 2022/23 preseason carries all the hype and excitement you would expect from a highly rated prospect and I hope he features prominently in Sixties’ preseason training reports.
Charlie Guymer – Centre
Thickset and powerfully built, Charlie Guymer is a talented young centre whose calling could be in the backrow. Indeed, the line between centre and backrower has become increasingly blurred in the modern game. Out and out specialist centres are becoming a rarer breed while centre/wing/fullback utility backs and big, powerful hybrid centre/backrowers are more and more popular.
By some fascinating twist of fate, the Parramatta Eels are a club that has had some of the best out and out centres as well as some of the best utility centres in recent years. Michael Jennings and now Will Penisini are the cream of the crop when it comes to pure centres while Manu Ma’u and Marata Niukore were dynamic dual-purpose powerhouses.
It remains to be seen where Guymer’s positional future lies but there is clearly plenty of value in players that can cover both roles. In his favour is the fact that Charlie is a well-rounded talent. In attack he runs the ball with intent on intelligent angles and was effective in goal line situations in 2022. He has been strong a defender through all the junior grades so far and while that doesn’t guarantee a seamless transition to senior footy, it does give him a good base to work from.
2023 will be about excelling at centre in the Jersey Flegg for Charlie Guymer but beyond that it will be exciting to see where his transition to senior footy will take him.
Larry Muagututia – Prop
It seems almost inevitable that Larry Muagututia will draw comparisons to Junior Paulo. Right from the start their athletic profiles are eerily similar. Tall, but not freakishly so, and built thick like a refrigerator all the while being shockingly light on their feet. Even the offloading ability will add to the connection – even if Junior is more advanced in that regard.
For Junior, 2012 was his pivotal year of development. In his final year of Toyota Cup (U20s) eligibility he took the first major steps towards honing his unique athletic profile into the weapon of mass destruction we now know. He converted all of his latent potential into production and never looked back as he climbed the rungs to the peak as the code’s top prop.
Larry now finds himself in exactly the same age bracket in 2023 as he turns 20 and the question becomes – does he have the same drive?
All the raw tools are there for Muagututia to dominate but like Junior before him he now has to weave them all together and that starts with dominating in the preseason. If he can do that then Parramatta will have a worthy successor to the iconic #10 jersey.
Saxon Pryke – Lock
Ethan Sanders wasn’t the only first year SG Ball eligible prospect to make an impression in the Jersey Flegg in 2022. Saxon Pryke might have made his Flegg debut much later in the season but the robust lock forward was still able to chalk up five caps in the U21s including a starting berth in the final round of the regular season.
It was an extremely encouraging stint for the young lock given the relative growth and development disadvantage he found himself combating. However, it also makes him quite difficult to evaluate for season 2023. Saxon is nowhere near done growing and maxing out on his frame but as it stands he is already a well-built unit. His blend of power and physicality is never out of fashion in the NRL but in an era where lock forwards have increasingly diverse skillsets adding the ability to ball-play before the line would massively elevate his game.
All this can be taught in time though. Continuing to hone and sharpen the core skills of a middle forward is the priority in the mean time and Saxon Pryke is set for a big year in the Jersey Flegg.
Ethan Sanders – Halfback
The hype around Ethan Sanders right now is only just starting to build and for the Parramatta Eels that is a very, very good thing. The young playmaker entered 2022 in his junior year of SG Ball eligibility (i.e. turning 18 in an U19s competition) and would quickly go on to become a core figure in the Jersey Flegg team. The significance of that feat should not be undersold – Sanders wasn’t just holding his own against young men up to 3 years older than him, he was often excelling.
Long time readers will know that even in all my usual excitement and optimism when it comes to young talent I always preach that talent evaluation (especially as a club outsider) is an imprecise science. There are so many variables on and off the field that can wildly impact the course of a prospects outlook. That is doubly true for young halfbacks and five-eighths where the burden of crushing expectations and positional volatility often collide in spectacularly nasty fashion.
I throw that cautionary reminder out once again because in Sanders I see a very complete playmaker. Even given his youthfulness he has shown he can excel in all three phases of offence. Be it running, passing or kicking he shown a proficiency comfortably beyond his years and he was desperately unlucky not be picked for the NSW U19s this year. Even in defence, typically the bane of a star young half, he has shown a level of application that bodes extremely well.
I have Sanders pencilled in as the presumptive heir to Mitchell Moses and I expect his star to rise in meteoric fashion sooner rather than later. Right now, I think the focus will be for him to dominate the Jersey Flegg in 2023 and force his way into the NSW Cup program where he will begin his advanced applied studies in playmaking.
NRLW Development Squad
Rosemarie Beckett – Half/Centre
Parramatta’s surge through the 2022 Tarsha Gale was built largely on talent developed within the Eels’ sprawling catchment area. One player however that found their way to the Blue & Gold externally was Rosemarie Beckett and goodness was she a key recruit.
Beckett was a 2021 Tarsha Gale premiership winner with the St George Illawarra Dragons where she played centre (alongside other future Eels Rueben Cherrington and Cassey Tohi-Hiku). As an Eel though she was thrust into the all-important position of halfback and there was barely a misstep for the young phenom with her lethal ability to run and pass becoming a weekly fixture in the Tarsha Gale.
The Eels unearthed a pair of difference makers in the NRLW this year in Tayla Preston and Ashleigh Quinlan but Beckett’s value comes in the fact that she can not only challenge them outright in the halves but that she can also play in the centres. She has a bright future in the NRLW and I am eager to see how she turns out in 2023.
Petesa Lio – Centre
While Petesa Lio had her share of moments of finesse, if I had to attribute anything to her it would be the fact that she was a hammer out in the centres. Her bruising carries blended speed and power in equal measure and made her a nightmare to try and contain for opposition edges.
Dynamic ball runners like Lio are always welcome in any team but she has a challenge ahead of her to potentially unseat Tiana Penitani and Rikeya Horne. However, with massive expansion coming to the NRLW in 2023 there is every chance that an opportunity could fall her way rapidly. There are four new franchises that need to fill out their rosters and they will be looking for established NRLW veterans to help guide their fledgling rosters. If the Eels can’t retain all their backline talent then suddenly Petesa Lio could suddenly find herself as the next player up to don the Blue & Gold in the NRLW.
Tahleisa Maeva – Edge
When I wrote about Kyanna Lokeni in Part 1 I had to mention Tahleisa Maeva since the two were peas from the same pod. Both young women were fantastically well-balanced presences on the edge for the Eels and while they weren’t the stars of the team they always did their jobs to a high level.
It is exactly that kind of work ethic that will serve Maeva well as she looks to make the step up to the NRLW in 2023. Dean Widders asked his backrowers to do plenty of defensive and off-the-ball work in 2022 and that shouldn’t trouble Tahleisha in the slightest. She brings plenty of energy in attack as well and could be a handy interchange forward to start her career as a result.
Unsurprisingly, Beckett, Lio and Maeva were all part of the NSW City Under 19s – a fitting reward for all three! Maeva also earned selection for the NSW Under 19s team while Beckett narrowly missed the game but did earn selection as the 18th player.