Words by Tom Connor
The battle to finish in the top four of the inaugural Buildcorp NRC is starting to heat up.
The NRC promised to unearth the stars of tomorrow today and it seems to be delivering. So this week we take a closer look at some of the key talent emerging so far.
Andrew Kellaway (NSW Country Eagles)
Australian U20’s record try-scorer Andrew Kellaway had massive raps heading in to the competition and he hasn’t disappointed since, showing everyone why he is considered a Wallaby-in-waiting. Atop the leading try scorer’s list, Andrew has an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time – as all good Wingers should be.
A product of the Scots College in Sydney, the man they call ‘Kel’ has gone from strength to strength since graduating.
Having been dubbed as ‘the best thing to come out of schoolboy Rugby since Kurtley Beale’, the fiery redhead has handled the pressure with composure beyond his years.
Brad Lacey (Perth Spirit)
Continuing the theme of talented outside backs, Brad Lacey has emerged as one of the brightest young talents in the NRC. After forming a lethal combination with Andrew Kellaway in the Australian U20’s team, Brad has gone solo with the Spirit and bagged plenty of meat in the opening Rounds.
Born in Durban, Brad joins a large contingent of South African players in the Western Force setup. Another strong runner will ball in hand, Brad showed he is just as able under a high ball, scoring one of the tries of the season against the Rising earlier this year.
With the departure of fan favourite Nick Cummins earlier this year, Brad shapes as a potential successor for the Badge given his electric form and try-scoring prowess in the NRC.
JJ Taulagi (Qld Country)
Jamie-Jerry or ‘JJ’ as he is known, made himself known to Rugby supporters up North during the 2013 Queensland Premier Grade Competition. After scoring 13 tries in as many appearances for University of Queensland, JJ was signed to the Reds where he made his debut toward the back end of the 2014 campaign.
A livewire in attack, JJ helped spark Queensland Country to their first win on the weekend, coming from behind to see off the Rams 24-13.
Born and raised in Auckland, JJ and his family moved to Australia when he was 19 years old back in 2012 and it didn’t take long for him to impress. The Kiwi’s loss has ultimately been Australia’s gain, with JJ showing plenty of promise in a Reds backline laden with talent.
Samu Kerevi (Brisbane City)
Another Reds debutant this year, Samu ‘wrecking ball’ Kerevi has been torturing NRC defences since the opening Round.
Donning the number 12 jersey for Brisbane City, Samu quickly became renowned for his powerful carries that seldom required less than two or three opponents to stop. The Sydney Stars found that out the hard way in their inaugural matchup, with the physios called in to action just about every time Samu touched the pill.
Originally born in Fiji, Samu and his family moved to Australia when he was just seven years old. Samu attended Brisbane State High School, where he played 1st XV Rugby with Reds teammates Curtis Browning and Chris Feauai-Sautia.
The Reds may have had a lean season this year, but with a wealth of young talent coming through the system and some big off-season signings, the future looks bright for the 2011 Champions.
Jim Stewart (Sydney Stars)
Another talented second Five-Eighth is Jim Stewart of the Sydney (University) Stars. Hailing from the Scots College, Jim through the pathways program has been able to play an impressive three years of 1st XV Rugby.
A member of this years Australian U20’s side, Jim is renowned for his strong ball carries and uncanny ability to be able to exploit even the smallest of gaps. Jim has without a doubt been one of the bright sparks in an otherwise miserable campaign for the Stars.
When he isn’t playing Rugby, you’ll find Jim manning the shores of Pittwater as a lifeguard.
Jared Barry (Greater Sydney Rams)
He may not be as young as the other stars, but Jared Barry has burst on to the NRC scene in a big way with the Greater Sydney Rams. Built like the side of a house but gifted with silky ball skills, it isn’t hard to miss the towering Lock running round the field.
A key member of the Woodies Shute Shield winning side, Jared has proved just as valuable for the Rams. Providing his team with a constant source of front foot ball to play with, it’s given Ben Volavola a chance to unleash their potent backline.
The depth of the Lock position in Australia has long been an area of concern, and given his strong performances thus far it seems that the sky is the limit for Jared Barry.
Sam Ward (North Harbour Rays)
North Harbour Rays No.8 Sam Ward has emerged as the wildcard of the competition, producing some dominant performance to stamp his name on the opening five Rounds of the competition.
Despite a slow start to the NRC, the Rays have now won two on the trot after seeing off the Spirit on the weekend. Sam played a starring role in the win, crossing for a hat trick of tries as the home side prevailed 32-29.
Hailing from the Warringah Rats Club in Sydney’s Shute Shield, Sam is a tireless worker in tight. Gifted with pace and natural ability for a big man, Sam excelled in the Warringah Rats’ Sevens program at the end of last season.
As a result, he is now reaping the benefits of the open style of Rugby the NRC promotes, and so too are the North Harbour Rays.
Telusa Veainu (Melbourne Rising)
It was hard to pick just one Melbourne Rising player. As a team they have been absolutely irresistible.
Sean McMahon, Lopeti Timani and Luke Jones have all been outstanding up front, as has Jack Debreczeni and Mitch Inman in unleashing their red-hot outside backs.
In a team jam packed full of Super Rugby stars though, Telusa Veainu has really stood up and showed his potential. Looking right at home on the Wing for the Rising, Telusa has been on the end of a number of tries that will no doubt feature in the Try of the Season highlights.
A former Crusader and Highlander in New Zealand, Telusa made six appearances for the Melbourne Rebels this year and crossed the line on two occasions.
Gifted with some flashy feet and speed to match, he is comfortable in any of the back three positions. With the Rising looking unstoppable thus far, keep an eye on Telusa Veainu heading in to the Finals Series and 2015 Super Rugby season.
Les Makin (Canberra Vikings)
The Vikings have also had a number of standout players this season, so much so that two of their players have already graduated to the Brumbies top squad for the 2015 season.
One of these men is Vikings Prop Les Makin, who is working as a removalist to make ends meet whilst playing in the NRC.
A Canberra junior, Les is renowned for his ability to put on a big shot in defence. Just as capable come scrum time, Les will join an exciting young Brumbies front row led by Wallabies stalwart Stephen Moore next year.
A workhorse in tight around the breakdown, Les defied the stereotype and reminded us all that he knows his way to the try line, bagging a bit of meat early on in the competition.