The 2017 Schwarz Excavations Nines is set to kick off the Rockhampton Rugby League season and with some out-of-town teams coming to challenge for the title this year it sets it up for an intriguing two days of Nines footy. Here's the Top-20 Players to Watch in this year's Nines:
PLEASE NOTE: 2016 RRL Nines Player of the Carnival Jonathon Tavinor was not considered due to injury.
20. Dean Blackman - (Yeppoon Seagulls)
2015 RRL Nines Player of the Carnival Dean Blackman did not get on the field for as Captain-Coach for the Emu Park Emus in 2016 after a dominant 2015 Nines campaign for the Yeppoon Seagulls. 2016 was a forgettable year for Blackman and the Emus. He now returns to Yeppoon Seagulls and is tipped to possibly make an appearance at the Nines. An experienced, crafty hooker he is certainly one to watch if he gets a run.
19. Clint Mooney (Norths Chargers)
Clinton Mooney has the versatility and skill set to really excel in the 9-a-side form of the game. Chargers Premiership winning Coach Kane Hardy couldn’t be more happy with Mooney’s pre-season and is fully expecting a big Nines campaign from the former Capra. Mooney is as easily at home in the backs as he is in the forwards. Expect a strong campaign from him.
18. Justin Daniels (Blackwater/Brothers)
Maybe the most skilful big man that the Rockhampton Rugby League has seen since Rocky Brothers great Shane “Robo” Robinson hung the boots up. Justin “Bubbles” Daniels is a goal-kicking front-rower with all the skills of a five-eighth. A full preseason under his belt with the Capras will have Daniels fit and firing. The only question is who will he line up for? His hometown team the Blackwater Crushers or Rockhampton Brothers?
17. Nick Deaves (Yeppoon Seagulls)
Nick Deaves comes in to the already strong Yeppoon Seagulls side from a successful few years with the Clermont Bears. Deaves is versatile and his combination of speed and strength makes him a tricky proposition for opposition defences. The former St. Brendan’s College product is sure to slot right in with the Seagulls fast and furious style of play.
16. Mitchell Power (Rocky Brothers)
Mitchell Power exploded onto the RRL scene last year with a season for the ages. Despite not being available for all matches because of work commitments he still managed to be crowned the Ollie Howden medal winner for 2016. The only thing that stopped his fairytale season from being a reality was the unbelievable comeback victory of the Norths Chargers in the 2016 RRL Grand-Final. The pain of that defeat is sure to fire Power and his teammates up for the Nines.
15. Lance Kuveu (Biloela Panthers)
Plucked from the obscurity of a local league competition in his homeland Papua New Guinea to play for the Capras, Kuveu’s story is one of true inspiration. With the Capras short on troops Kuveu (pictured right) took up the challenge to play on the wing against his countrymen the PNG Hunters and even jagged himself a try. More importantly he won himself a contract with the Capras and although not seeing a lot of field time for the Q Cup side he is a valued member of the squad with plenty to offer. Kuveu played a large role in the Panthers surprising charge to the 2016 RRL Nines Grand-final and is sure to feature prominently again.
14. Liam Law (Rocky Brothers)
With speed to burn Liam Law comes into the Nines on the back of a full pre-season with the Capras and will be all the better for it. Brothers Coach Damien Seibold rates Law as an extremely gifted athlete with the potential to turn a game on its head with his supreme attacking skills. Another player who will be out to impress coach Kim Williams for a spot in the round-1 team.
13. Billy Gilbert (Yeppoon Seagulls)
As if the Yeppoon Seagulls weren’t already lethal enough around the ruck with classy hookers like Dean Blackman and George Grant running the show now they have acquired new Capras player Billy Gilbert (pictured right). Gilbert comes with big wraps from the Cronulla u/20s system and is looking to make a statement to grab a bench role for the Capras behind the experienced Krys Freeman. Look for Gilbert’s speed out of dummy-half.
12. George Jarrett
On his day former Capras forward George Jarrett can be unstoppable. For the Fitroy-Gracemere Sharks fans they will be hoping George has two of those days this Saturday and Sunday. A rare ball-playing front-rower who can pass pre-line or post-line Jarrett is the spiritual leader of the Sharkies and will be the key to their success.
11. Keanu Doyle
There is a lot of good reports out of Woorabinda for young and up and comer Keanu Doyle. Coach Reggie Cressbrook described Doyle as a clever half, hooker who is versatile and quick enough to play in the backs. Doyle impressed in the recent Bilo 9s competition and will be out to impress again in front of a vocal Woorabinda band of supporters.
10. Masada Iosefa (Emu Park Emus)
On paper the Emu Park Emus have a very experienced and accomplished side and Iosefa is perhaps the best example of that. At 29 years old Iosefa (pictured right) is a veteran of 103 NRL games for the Wests Tigers and Penrith Panthers. After a short unhappy stint with the Capras, Ioesefa spent the majority of last year playing in the Bundaberg competition. By all reports the 95kg utility is set to have an impact in the 2017 Schwarz Excavations Nines.
7.Tyson Curtis/Zaine Hammond (Rocky Brothers )
It remains to be seen whether these two young stars are released to play in the Nines this weekend. Both players were involved for opposite teams in the nail-biting 1st XIII Rocky Secondary Schools Rugby League Grand-final. If they are released Coach Damien Seibold will have the luxury of calling on two fit and capable youngsters when the opposition is tiring. Hammond is a centre who hits great lines and Curtis is a wing/fullback with good pace.
8. Ryan Wilson (Biloela Panthers)
Ryan Wilson (pictured right) is a leader of men. Nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in RRL history when he led his underdog side all the way through to the 2016 RRL Nines Grand-final only to fall short at the last hurdle. With a few key losses over the off-season more weight will fall on the hulking backrower’s shoulders. Can the Panthers Captain-Coach inspire his troops to an unlikely victory in 2017? Wilson won’t leave anything in the sheds in trying!
7. Malcolm Darkin (Emu Park Emus)
Darkin (pictured right) was in great form at last year’s RRL Nines playing for the Biloela Panthers and sparking the team’s surprise run to the Grand Final, where they just fell short to Yeppoon Seagulls. Lines up for his new team the Emu Park Emus in 2017. Was named in the 2016 RRL Nines Best-9 team of the carnival. Is a speed machine and an intercept specialist. Perfectly suited to Nines footy. Great acquisition for the Emu Park side.
6. George Grant
2015 Ollie Howden Winner George Grant is back for another year and he will again be terrorising opposition defenders out of dummy half. The Seagulls always turn up fit and quick and ready to play and this is a system that has been so successful over the last two years at the Nines. Grant made the 2016 RRL Nines Best-9 team of the tournament. Set for a big 2017 Nines.
5. Daniel Levi (Norths Chargers)
Daniel Levi is only 23 years old but he has certainly played a lot of high level footy. Stints with the NQ Cowboys and Brisbane Broncos have helped mould him as a player since he first broke onto the scene as an 17-year old for the CQ Comets. Levi is a player with great evasive skills, deft passing and deceptive speed. One to watch!
4. Cheyenne Motu (Emu Park Emus)
Journeyman Cheyenne Motu (pictured right) has settled into the Captain-Coach role at the Emu Park Emus really well and has rejuvenated the club after a disappointing 2016 RRL campaign. Captain-Coach is not an easy job, but I fully expect Motu to rise to the challenge. The former Junior Kiwi has plied his trade with notable success in the Q Cup and is a proven winner. Motu will link with former premiership winning teammate Garrett Field to provide a lethal combination. The two played starring roles in the 2008 Yeppoon Seagulls Extended League Premiership win over Gladstone Brothers. 9 years later and their paths cross again. Could be just what the Emus need.
3. Mark Johnstone (Rocky Brothers)
With such an illustrious line-up of players it was always going to be a tough decision on who would be Number-1. Mark Johnstone went very, very close. Equally adept as a hooker and in the halves Johnstone has a rare combination of speed of the mark and footy smarts that are probably unrivalled at the Nines this year. The inclusion of Johnstone along with Marco Delapena has rocketed the Brethren into favourites to take out the Nines in 2017.