NRL Expert @JennaBrooks
Five players to watch as the NRL returns to Sky Sports
Last Updated: 07/03/18 5:04pm
Jenna Brooks looks at five NRL players to watch when the 2018 season gets underway on Thursday, live on Sky Sports.
TRISTAN SAILOR - ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA
My rookie to watch is an easy one to remember - Tristan Sailor. As the name suggests Tristan is indeed the son of rugby league legend Wendell Sailor.
Wendell spent the best part of his career with Brisbane, before switching codes. In 2008 he returned to Rugby League and joined former Broncos coach Wayne Bennett at St George Illawarra and spent his final two seasons with the Dragons.
Dad will be pleased his 19-year old son signed a two-year deal with St George Illawarra and has already impressed last year with the U20s side. The five-eighth was a nominee for both the Dally M and RLPA NYC Player of the Year.
While there's no question Tristan will spend most of his rugby league career being compared to his father, the teenager is determined to make his own mark.
Since earning a spot in the development squad, could it all begin in 2018?
KYLE FLANAGAN - CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS
I have included another rookie in my players to watch because I couldn't choose between Sailor and Kyle Flanagan, who is also a son of rugby league figure - Shane Flanagan, Cronulla's head coach.
Also, Kyle, 19, is another youngster with a huge amount of promise. Flanagan was a sensation last year in the Sharks U20s side. He broke the National Youth Competition's scoring record with 360 points in 26 games and kicked 140 conversions at an 80 per cent success rate and could be in line to replace James Maloney, who signed with Penrith.
The half-back was given his first shot at an NRL halves spot in Cronulla's trial game last month, setting up a handful of tries to help the Sharks beat Manly.
The rookie showed an incredible amount of toughness. Early on in the game he broke his hand, but continued to play, which means we will have to wait a couple of weeks to see the teenager in action, but I think it might be well worth the wait.
CAMERON SMITH - MELBOURNE STORM
He might be in his 17th NRL season, but Cameron Smith makes my players to watch. You might think the 34-year old is at the end of his career, but the Melbourne hooker continues to deliver season after season.
In fact, last year was arguably his best yet. He won the Dally M Medal for a second time, he also took out the Golden Boot Award. Smith led the Storm to the NRL premiership, Queensland to a third straight State of Origin series and their 11th from 12, and captained Australia to victory in the World Cup.
Smith has made 358 appearances in the NRL and is on track to hit the 400-game milestone next year if all goes to plan. But at the 2018 NRL launch, Smith hinted it could be his final season.
If that's the case, I don't want to miss a second that this great player is on the pitch for this year.
JOHNATHAN THURSTON - NORTH QUEENSLAND
From one rugby league legend to another. Johnathan Thurston is often referred to as the greatest the games ever seen and he returns to the sport after spending the best part of last season injured.
This year is set to be Thurston's final campaign in the NRL, after he announced his likely retirement at season's end and the Cowboys co-captain wants to go out on a high, winning the 2018 Grand Final
In his 15-year career, so far the Queensland and Australia representative has won the Dally M Medal an incredible four times and the Golden Boot on three occasions, a feat no player has ever done before.
The 34-year old makes his long-awaited NRL comeback on Friday when the Cowboys take on the Sharks, live on Sky Sports. It will be his 300th first-grade match
If the half-back can stay injury free and get through the entire season, who knows what else he is capable of.
MICHAEL MORGAN - NORTH QUEENSLAND
With Thurston's retirement on the cards, this leads me to his replacement Michael Morgan. I mentioned Morgan's new deal with North Queensland in my NRL Talking Points this week, and I think he is one to watch this year.
Morgan signed a new five-year deal with the Cowboys worth almost £3m, one of the biggest NRL contracts of all time.
In Thurston's absence last year, Morgan stepped up and made his own mark. He led the Cowboys to an unlikely Grand Final, which resulted with him starting in the halves for Australia in the World Cup.
A number of clubs were after Morgan's signature, but the Cowboys managed to secure his future. He's played 128 NRL games, as well as made eight appearances for Queensland in the State of Origin.
North Queensland are expecting the playmaker to continue his dominance and have a big start to 2018.