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‘Wrecking ball’ that ended big Souths ‘question mark’

Nothing pleases a coach – and lifts his team – more than a player who raises the level of his game on the previous year.

It’s like getting a bonus new signing – and we saw many examples of players showing stunning new form in 2022.

Apologies to those I have left out – I’m sure there are plenty – but here are the big improvers who really caught my eye last year (in no particular order):

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Reuben Cotter – went from an average forward to a State of Origin star … became a machine and was one of several Cowboys to make the list, a reflection of their amazing year in 2022.

Dominic Young – lanky winger had weaknesses in his game in 2021, particularly in defence, but developed into a real weapon on the flank for the Knights and finished the team’s equal top tryscorer with 14 from 20 games.

Scott Sorensen – unable to cement a top grade spot at the Sharks, he shifted to Penrith where he forced his way into the top 17 and became a game-changer from the bench.

Tom Dearden – had a nightmare start to his top grade career at the Broncos, losing his first 18 straight games. Found new confidence under Todd Payten at the Cowboys and was a key figure in their final charge.

Keaon Koloamatangi – there were question marks about the Souths pack when the season started – but this wrecking ball soon answered them. Big and strong, he developed into the leader of the Bunnies’ pack.

Jeremy Marshall-King – appeared to take the Bulldogs’ decision to pay big money for Eels hooker Reed Mahoney personally, taking his game to a new level. Developed his dummy half skills and made many line breaks.

Jake Averillo – like JMK, stepped up after the departure of Trent Barrett and played some great football for interim coach Mick Potter in several backline positions.

Moses Suli – the powerhouse center has always had the potential – in 2022 he finally lived up to it. Was a real handful out wide for the Dragons and should continue to develop after another solid off season.

Lachlan Croker – hooker shaped as Manly’s weak spot at the start of 2022, but this guy had other ideas. A former utility back, he won the Sea Eagles’ player of the year award … and few could disagree.

Connor Tracey – he may still be a Cronulla player without a position, but he has two priceless assets – impact and speed. Wherever he filled in in the backline, he made his mark.

Jeremiah Nanai – started the season as a relative unknown but had an amazing year, scoring the most tries by a forward in a single season since Steve Menzies in 1998 with 17. Won both Queensland and Australian selection in a memorable campaign.

Chad Townsend – many thought the 31-year-old was taking a retirement payout when he moved to the Cowboys after a long career at the Sharks and Warriors. But Townsend turned back the clock and proved himself the general of the Cowboys’ bold finals charge.

Hudson Young – A fiery temperament proved this tough Raiders forward’s undoing in previous years but in 2022 he found the right balance. Bagged 13 tries, including a couple of crucial match-winners.

Max King – His signing from Melbourne barely created a ripple but once he overcame some nagging injuries, he proved a massive asset for the Bulldogs. Should be even better in 2023.

Sebastian Kris – In and out of the top grade in previous years, he proved himself a real attacking weapon for Canberra, scoring 14 tries and creating many more. A real handful when given room to move.

Mark Nicholls – It’s not often a player’s 11th season in the NRL is their best – but that was the case with the veteran Souths prop. Not a match-winner but a consistent performer who made the hard yards, and that’s why Wayne Bennett signed him for the Dolphins.

Shaun Lane – Parramatta’s attack was superb in 2022, and a lot of that was thanks to Lane’s smart offloading ability. Combined well with Dylan Brown on the edge to cause every rival team plenty of problems.

Xavier Coates – Always had the potential at Brisbane but came of age under Craig Bellamy, bagging 16 tries in 17 games and producing some spectacular leaps to catch bombs at both ends of the field.

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