The NRL’s Best Young Players 2022

The NRL is no place for children, and for the most part the best players in the league are the hardened bodies with plenty of experience at the top level. There are equally, however, plenty of ready-made talents who set the league alight from a young age, playing a role for their teams which bely their youth and relative lack of experience. From Payne Haas, already one of the most important players in the league, to the rapidly improving Selwyn Cobbo, these are some of the best young players in the NRL.

Payne Haas (Broncos)

Not only is Payne Haas one of the best young players in the NRL; he’s one of the best players in the league, full stop. Last year, he won Broncos’ Paul Morgan Medal as their best player of the year for the third time, joining club legends like Darren Lockyer and Corey Parker. The difference between Haas and those names, of course, is that he was just 21 years of age at the time.

Now 22 years of age, the 119-kilogram prop has played a major role in the Broncos’ gradual ascent back up the NRL ladder. He has been widely viewed as a key to the side’s future success, though a request to be released from his contract partway through the 2022 season certainly threw something of a spanner in the works. Regardless of where he is playing, however, as long as Haas is on the park he will be a dominant force in the NRL.

Selwyn Cobbo (Broncos)

Entering the 2022 season, Selwyn Cobbo had played just seven games at NRL level. Fast forward a few months, and he has exploded so rapidly onto the scene that conversations about his State of Origin debut for Queensland have already begun. At the age of just 19, Cobbo has been electric for the Broncos in 2022, and his youthful exuberance, speed and strength have been a significant driver behind his side’s improved form.

In fact, throughout the Broncos’ five game winning streak between Rounds 7 and 11, Cobbo went on a tear, scoring three tries twice and a hat-trick once. Those nine tries in five games came after he had scored two in his first 13. The versatile 19-year-old from Cherbourg has absolutely exploded onto the scene in 2022, and has quickly become one of the most exciting players to watch in the league.

Matt Burton (Bulldogs)

For a 22-year-old, Matt Burton has already squeezed plenty into his NRL career. After playing just six games in his first two years with the Panthers, he excelled as their centre in 2021, playing a pivotal role in their famous Grand Final victory over the Melbourne Storm. He played 26 games last year and scored 17 tries – including the first of the Grand Final – with his fantastic form throughout the season resulting in him being named the Centre of the Year at just 21 years of age.

His move last year never loomed as being the easiest transition; he was, after all, going from the Premiers to the Wooden Spooners in the Bulldogs. He’s also spent 2022 honing his craft in a new position, playing as a five-eighth for Canterbury, but though he’s slipped out of the limelight as a result of his new team’s lack of success this season, he is still making a solid fist of his new role at the club. It’s easy to forget that Burton is still just 22 years old, and undoubtedly one of the best young players in the game.

Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Titans)

Another 22-year-old who has already experienced plenty at NRL level, Fa’asuamaleaui made his debut back in 2019 for the Storm; a little over a year later, he would be a Premiership player with 27 NRL games under his belt, just four of which he had lost. Following that successful 2020 season, he was awarded the Rookie of the Year Award at the Storm’s Melbourne Storm Player of the Year Award, and also made his debut for Queensland in Game 1 of the State of Origin Series, aged just 20.

A move to the Titans ensued, where he played a key role in a season which yielded their first finals appearance since 2016, and at the beginning of 2022 he was named captain at the age of just 22. Admittedly they are a young team, but regardless being placed in such a role at such a young age is indicative of the high regard in which he is held at the club. Things haven’t exactly gone to plan thus far in his debut season as captain, but that he is in that position at all demonstrates just how much talent Fa’asuameleaui has, both as a player and a leader.

Sam Walker (Roosters)

It was just last year that Sam Walker made his NRL debut, and he wasted no time making an impact at the top level. The English-born five-eighth and halfback made 21 appearances and scored eight tries in his first season, showing a penchant for the big moment along the way. In Round 14, he scored a field goal to secure a one-point win against the Titans, before repeating the effort in the 77th minute of his Roosters’ Elimination Final, again against the Titans. At season’s end, he was named Dally M Rookie of the Year, and in his second year Walker hasn’t taken a backwards step.

Walker is an instinctive and naturally gifted offensive talent, with an excellent short kicking game and a willingness to take the game on. A tendency to take risks invariably means that he will be prone to errors, particularly at the age of just 19, but already he is one of the most exciting players in the game, and he will only continue to improve in the coming years.

Reece Walsh (Warriors)

The Warriors might not be a team that neutral supporters queue up to watch play, but Reece Walsh has been a shining light for the New Zealand-based side over the past couple of years. It wasn’t until Round 7 that he made his NRL debut, but in what was a testament to just how quickly he impressed at the top level, he was selected to play in Game 2 of the State of Origin as Queensland’s fullback. Unfortunately, he was ultimately ruled out due to injury, but there’s little doubt that he will pull on the maroon jersey plenty over the coming years.

At just 19 years of age, Walsh still has room for plenty of growth. From all reports he is a hard worker with a desire to maximise his talent, of which he has plenty, and his defensive game is one area in which he has shown tangible improvement in his second year in the league. The teenager is already one of the most important players to his Warriors’ side, and appears set for a long and productive career in the NRL.

David Fifita (Titans)

At the ripe old age of just 22, David Fifita already has plenty of experience in the NRL. His 44 games over the first three years of his career with the Broncos was good enough for him to command a three-year deal worth in excess of $3 million with the Titans; a deal which was finalised when he was just 20 years old. During his time with the Broncos, the second-rower was also selected to represent Queensland in the 2019 State of Origin series, a selection which made him the first player born this century to play at the level.

Fifita’s stint with the Titans has been a mixed bag to date. He was solid in his first season there, while a knee injury put his 2022 season on hold for a few weeks after eight rounds. His hefty pay packet certainly opens him up to criticism and he undoubtedly has the ability to produce more than what he has so far with the Titans, but that pay packet was given to him for a reason. He has talent in spades, and at just 22 has plenty of time to display the growth of which he is so capable.

None of the above names have been in the league for long, but in their short careers each of them has already had a major impact on the NRL. Some, like Burton and Fa’asuamaleaui, have already packed a careers’ worth of experience into their NRL lives, while others, like Walker and Cobbo, are still very much in the infancy of their respective careers. Regardless, they all have one thing in common; they are among the best young talents in the league, and appear set to play a major role in the NRL for many years to come.