NRL Players to Watch in the 2022 Season

It might be a team sport, but watching individual players develop and realise their potential is one of the most enjoyable aspects of watching the NRL. Every season there are numerous players who take giant strides forward in their careers, stamping themselves on the league and capturing the attention of the rugby loving public. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the NRL players most likely to do exactly that in 2022, from second-year prodigies looking to establish themselves in the league to more experienced players ready to take another step forward.

Xavier Savage (Canberra Raiders)

Xavier Savage might have just two full NRL games under his belt heading into the 2022 season, but that was more than enough for him to demonstrate the enormous potential of the 19-year-old Raider. After making a brief appearance as a concussion replacement in Round 15 last season, he played all 80 minutes in both Rounds 17 and 18 before his season was prematurely brought to an end courtesy of a shoulder injury. In that brief time on the field, he more than made his mark, stamping himself as a future superstar of the game and getting Raiders fans incredibly excited.

In those games, Savage managed a try, a try assist, ten tackle breaks and a couple of line breaks, but statistics aside it was his remarkable pace and electric running game which really got heads turning. From all reports, the 2022 season will see Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad head into the centres to free up space at fullback for Savage, a move which indicates just how highly the Raiders rate the young man from Cairns. If he can get through the season injury-free, expect the career of Savage to truly begin in earnest.

Blayke Brailey (Cronulla Sharks)

Blayke Brailey has had plenty more time than the likes of Xavier Savage to make his mark on the NRL, but a few changes to the Sharks’ list might be enough to see him take a major step forward in 2022. The 23-year-old has already been involved in the Sharks at some capacity for a decade, having entered their development system at the age of 13, and in that time has continually shown plenty of promise. Last year, he played 24 games securing a couple of tries and five try assists, but the lack of tackling ability from his forwards meant he wasn’t able to focus as much energy as he might have otherwise on his attacking game.

This year, that might all change. Cronulla have acquired the services of a couple of quality defensive players in Dale Finucane, Cameron McInnes and Craig Fitzgibbons, and their presence should enable Brailey to focus a little more on extracting his full potential on the attacking side of the ball. Having signed a long-term deal to remain in Cronulla, Brailey appears set to remain a feature of the side for many years to come, and this may be the year that he truly begins to make his mark on the competition.

Blake Taaffe (South Sydney Rabbitohs)

Blake Taaffe spent much of the 2021 season watching on from the sidelines as his South Sydney teammates put together a brilliant season, but was finally given his opportunity later in the season. He played the full 80 minutes in Rounds 17 and 18, before returning just before the finals series and playing an important role in the Bunnies’ march to the Grand Final. In total he appeared in eight games throughout the course of the season, which was more than enough to make a significant impression on the league. In those games he managed one try as well as five try assists and six line break assists, and performed to a very impressive standard in some high pressure games considering he was just a few games into his career.

There’s no shortage of competition for spots in South Sydney’s talented team, but the expectation is that when Latrell Mitchell returns it will be at the fullback position, with Taaffe pairing up with Cody Walker in the halves. Being part of what appears to be such a potent combination will no doubt aid in the development of the 22-year-old, whose first season suggested that he has the ability to become a serious player in the NRL. With South Sydney tipped to once again be there or thereabouts at the pointy end of the season, Taaffe, in just his second season at the top level, looks likely to be playing a major role on one of the league’s best teams in 2022.

Joseph Suaalii (Sydney Roosters)

Joseph Suaalii was just 17 years of age when the 2021 season began, but that did nothing to slow down the extraordinary level of hype which surrounded the young man from Penrith. Still a couple of months shy of his 18th birthday, the prodigious talent made his debut for the Roosters in Round 11 against the Broncos. He would go on to play another four games in his rookie season, managing a try, a try assist, a couple of line breaks and eight tackle breaks in that time before a foot injury ended his season just as it was getting going. The injury meant that Suaalii didn’t really get a proper chance to showcase his talent, and in the five games he did play, he unsurprisingly struggled to match the lofty expectations which were placed upon him.

It is worth remembering, however, that he was a 17-year-old kid who was spending his weeks at school, rather than on the training track like his more experienced counterparts. In 2022, he’ll be able to enjoy a full preseason and a presumably increased focus on his football, which should help him to take a significant stride forward this year. He’ll also benefit from the fact that there are spots for the taking on the wing and at centre courtesy of the retirement of the Morris brothers, and Suaalii appears well placed to slot right into one of them. It’s never easy for a player rated as highly as Suaalii is to reach the expectations placed upon them, but if he can get even close he will have a seriously good career in the NRL. Playing for one of the favourites to take out this year’s Premiership, 2022 might be the season when it really gets going.

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (North Queensland Cowboys)

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow is still just 20 years old, but already he has established himself as one of the stars of the competition, and at such a young age he still has a scary amount of room for improvement. Touted as a future star since his debut in 2020, the talented Cowboy took things to a new level in 2021, ultimately being selected to play in the first of what appears likely to be many games for Queensland in Game 3 of the State of Origin series. Like many players on this list, his 2021 season ended earlier than he would have liked – in his case as a result of an emergency appendectomy – but in the 13 games he played he showed all the makings of a future star – if he’s not there already. In those games, he scored eight tries and also managed 13 line breaks and 38 tackle breaks, and was a major bright point in what was a disappointing season for the Cowboys.

It’s incredible to think that Tabuai-Fidow has still played just 27 games, but that fact is just another indication of how much room for growth he has. In those games his best position has appeared to be at fullback; it’s unlikely that he’ll get much time there given that he’ll have Valentine Holmes to compete with, but he hasn’t exactly looked out of place in the centres either. Wherever he ends up playing, he appears likely to continue to develop and become one of the best NRL players in 2022.

Every year, there are a host of NRL players worth keeping an eye on heading into the new season. Be they youngsters ready to explode after a rookie year, stars looking to take the leap into superstardom or something else entirely, watching players develop into their full potential is one of the greatest parts of watching the NRL. From prodigies like Xavier Savage to already-established stars like Tabuai-Fidow, the above names look likely to make a big mark on the league in 2022.

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