But how about Sharks sensation Briton Nikora? The back-rower was unknown to most outside of his own club and avid rugby league followers before this season, but is now one of most exciting prospects in the game.
In just seven NRL games he’s now on the verge of a maiden New Zealand call-up. The Sharks have started negotiations and will need to be quick with the 21-year-old, who is off contract at the end of the year and has made Luke Lewis’ old right edge his own.
Injuries bite Panthers
The Panthers were forced to make mass changes to their Canterbury Cup side that took on Mounties at Aubrey Keech Reserve on Sunday to safeguard against their NRL injury crisis.
Jarome Luai, Hame Sele, Kaide Ellis and Tyrell Fuimaono were 11th-hour withdrawals, the quartet to come under consideration by NRL coach Ivan Cleary for the Magic Round match against the Tigers.
Viliame Kikau, Isaah Yeo and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak were all injured in Penrith’s demoralising loss to the Raiders in Wagga on Saturday.
Jersey Flegg players Brad Gaut and Adam Fearnley actually drove back from playing in the Riverina on Saturday before being called up to the Canterbury Cup squad on Sunday.
Magic round squeeze
The NRL’s inaugural Magic Round has come with the attached advertising and hype, but it has also presented plenty of logistical challenges for the 15 teams travelling to Brisbane for the four-day extravaganza.
While pretty much all of the clubs will leave Brisbane shortly after their match – the Sharks will be out of the northern capital on Friday morning after playing the Titans on Thursday night – this column has been told a number of team officials will stay in different accommodation to players given the squeeze on hotels.
On the field, the NRL has recorded strong ticket sales to date and will be hopeful of at least 125,000 people flooding through the Suncorp Stadium gates from Thursday through to Sunday.
What salary cap relief – if any – will be granted to the Rabbitohs for Greg Inglis’ early retirement is likely to be a hot topic at a two-day pow-wow of NRL chief executives in Brisbane later this week.
The 16 club bosses will meet with League Central to debate a range of issues, but also discuss the NRL’s determination on Inglis’ situation.
There is a growing sense the NRL will penalise the Rabbitohs every cent above the going rate for a role comparable to Inglis’ position as a development coach, indigenous mentor and role with the Rabbitohs charity arm Souths Cares.
Sam slinks off
Sam Burgess had a novel explanation for being the only Rabbitohs player who didn’t get down on hands and knees for a Greg Inglis-like goanna try celebration in the tribute match on Thursday night.
“I feel bad because obviously I have so much respect for Greg, but I’m the only one that didn’t do a goanna,” Burgess said.
“To be honest I’m not one for celebrating too much. I didn’t realise Cody [Walker] and Adam Reynolds did one. John Sutton did one and I was off the field and everyone said, ‘why didn’t you do one?’ I didn’t realise two other players had done it. It shows how much I’m thinking out there.”
Burgess made sure he helped Wayne Bennett’s son Justin to a waiting car after the game, a further sign of the close bond between the coach and Inglis’ successor as captain.
The closing submissions in Jack de Belin’s Federal Court case arguing the no-fault stand-down policy made for some interesting reading, not least thanks to the colourful turn of phrase from the Australian Rugby League Commission’s legal eagle Alan Sullivan QC.
Arguing against de Belin’s contention the NRL had been misleading when it said the Dragons forward had been suspended or stood down during a two-week period from February 28 before the rule had been formally introduced, Sullivan wrote: “This claim involves angels dancing on the head of a pin.”
A decision from Justice Melissa Perry is imminent, but St George Illawarra will require a favourable verdict before Tuesday afternoon if they are to name de Belin in their 21-man squad for the Magic Round clash against the Warriors.
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.