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Intrust Super Cup to NRL: The 2021 graduates

The 2021 season saw talent from the Intrust Super Cup shine, with 24 Cup players moving up to make their debuts in the NRL.

Players stepped up into the NRL from Round 1 through to the final round of the regular season in 2021, showing how time spent in Queensland's statewide competitions, including the Hastings Deering Colts, can help prepare athletes to reach the top level of the game. 

Intrust Super Cup to NRL graduates 2021

1. Tyson Smoothy

Intrust Super Cup club: Sunshine Coast Falcons
NRL club: Melbourne Storm
NRL debut: Round 1 v South Sydney Rabbitohs

The Hastings Deering Colts player of the grand final in 2019, Smoothy returned from a stint with Penrith Panthers in 2020 where he played NRL Nines to re-join the Sunshine Coast Falcons, where he featured in Round 1 of the 2020 season. In Round 1 of the 2021 season, Smoothy made his debut for Melbourne Storm during their victory over South Sydney Rabbitohs, capping a stellar rise to the top.

2. Trent Loiero

Intrust Super Cup club: Sunshine Coast Falcons
NRL club: Melbourne Storm
NRL debut: Round 4 v Brisbane Broncos

Loiero started this year as he did last year, playing Cup for the Sunshine Coast Falcons. This season, he was able to put his experience of living in the NRL bubble with Melbourne Storm in 2020 to good use, slotting straight into the action during his NRL debut in Round 4 against the Brisbane Broncos. The Sunshine Coast junior went on to play four more NRL games this season, scoring two tries.

Let's go Trent Loiero

3. Wiremu Greig

Intrust Super Cup club: Northern Pride / Parramatta Eels (NSW Cup)
NRL club: Parramatta Eels
NRL debut: Round 6 v Canberra Raiders

It was an auspicious start to the season for the big prop who was included in the Maori side to play in this year's NRL All Stars clash. Greig then started the Intrust Super Cup season with a bang for Northern Pride, scoring a Round 1 double. This year, he played in one more game for the Pride before being released by the North Queensland Cowboys to join the Parramatta Eels where he played two NRL matches this season. 

4. Reece Walsh

Intrust Super Cup club: Norths Devils / Redcliffe Dolphins
NRL club: Warriors
NRL debut: Round 7 v Melbourne Storm

An early-season NRL club switch paid off for rising star Walsh, who started the season with Norths Devils before switching to the Redcliffe Dolphins on his way to his NRL debut with the Warriors. His elusive speed, ball skills and eagerness to learn from mentor Roger Tuivasa-Sheck saw him make an immediate impact in the NRL, with his form earning him selection in the Queensland Maroons squad for Game II, before injury ruled him out.

5. Rocco Berry

Intrust Super Cup club: Redcliffe Dolphins
NRL club: Warriors
NRL debut: Round 7 v Melbourne Storm

Berry is quickly making a name for himself in rugby league, but sporting prowess runs in the family with his father Marty Rocco a former All Black. This season, Berry made his Cup debut in Round 1, scoring a double for the Dolphins in their win. He went on to make his NRL debut against Melbourne Storm in Round 7, following up that milestone the next round by scoring a try in his side’s win over the North Queensland Cowboys.

6. Dean Ieremia

Intrust Super Cup club: Brisbane Tigers
NRL club: Melbourne Storm
NRL debut: Round 8 v Cronulla Sharks

The Sunbury Tigers junior was the talk of Victoria when he made his NRL debut with the Storm in Round 8 this year. Ieremia got his opportunity following some fantastic form with Brisbane Tigers where he scored six tries in six appearances, including a hat-trick in a big 50-10 win against Burleigh Bears in Round 3. This season, Ieremia ran out in 10 games for the Storm and scored six tries, including bagging an NRL hat-trick against the eventual premiers the Panthers in Round 20.

7. Edward Kosi

Intrust Super Cup club: Redcliffe Dolphins
NRL club: Warriors
NRL debut: Round 8 v North Queensland Cowboys

The big winger made nine Cup appearances for Redcliffe during 2021, where he proved a handful, scoring four tries. His NRL debut in Round 8 came as a bit of a surprise, with the Mangere East Hawks junior receiving only one hour’s notice about his call-up to the Warriors side where he filled in for an injured David Fusitu'a in the win against North Queensland Cowboys. In 2021, Kosi played five games for the Warriors and scored a try in Round 22.

8. Kobe Hetherington

Intrust Super Cup club: Souths Logan Magpies
NRL club: Brisbane Broncos
NRL debut: Round 11 v Sydney Roosters

After pressing his claims for an NRL debut with some strong showings in both Colts with Norths Devils and Cup with South Logan Magpies over the past few seasons, versatile forward Hetherington got his chance with Brisbane Broncos in their Round 11 win against Sydney Roosters. In 2021, Hetherington played 14 NRL games and crossed for three tries.

Kobe Hetherington, always solid

9. Heilum Luki

Intrust Super Cup club: Northern Pride
NRL club: North Queensland Cowboys
NRL debut: Round 11 v Newcastle Knights

Cairns Brothers junior Luki made his Cup debut in Round 1 of this year and started the season strongly for Northern Pride. His great form saw him earn himself an NRL debut with North Queensland Cowboys in Round 11, where the towering second rower made an immediate impact in his first game, scoring a memorable try. Luki capped off a season to remember by taking home the rookie of the year award at the North Queensland Cowboys presentation night.

10. TC Robati

Intrust Super Cup club: Wynnum Manly Seagulls
NRL club: Brisbane Broncos
NRL debut: Round 12 v Melbourne Storm

The young forward had a breakthrough year, earning his NRL debut with Brisbane Broncos after standing out for Wynnum Manly Seagulls in Cup. A powerful runner of the ball, the big second rower made 10 appearances for the Seagulls where he scored two tries and 10 appearances in the NRL as well, where he also scored two tries, a double against St George Illawarra Dragons in Round 13.

The incredibly talented Jayden Campbell

11. Jayden Campbell

Intrust Super Cup club: Tweed Seagulls
NRL club: Gold Coast Titans
NRL debut: Round 13 v Melbourne Storm

Talented fullback Campbell got the fans excited across both competitions with his electrifying speed and elusive footwork. Campbell looked right at home in the NRL after making his debut for the Gold Coast Titans in Round 13. In his seven games for the NRL, the former Burleigh Bears junior made 31 tackle breaks, adding to his 59 in six games for Tweed Seagulls in Cup.

Cup to the NRL: The 2021 graduates

12. Selwyn Cobbo

Intrust Super Cup club: Wynnum Manly Seagulls
NRL club: Brisbane Broncos
NRL debut: Round 13 v St George Illawarra Dragons

Young gun Cobbo said at the start of 2021 that he wanted to play well in the Hastings Deering Colts competition. Instead, he skipped that grade to make not only his Cup debut with Wynnum Manly Seagulls, but also his NRL debut with Brisbane Broncos. This past season, Cobbo made seven appearances for the Broncos, where he scored two tries, and finished the season - one he scored six tries in 10 games - playing in the Cup grand final for the Seagulls.

Selwyn Cobbo 'too fast and too good'

13. Greg Marzhew

Intrust Super Cup club: Burleigh Bears
NRL club: Gold Coast Titans
NRL debut: Round 13 v Melbourne Storm

A fan favourite on the Gold Coast, the big winger proved a handful no matter which team he played for, be it Burleigh Bears in Cup or Gold Coast Titans in the NRL. Marzhew scored six tries in eight appearances in the NRL, including bagging one against Melbourne Storm in his Round 13 debut and also scored three tries in seven games for the Bears.

14. Junior Pauga

Intrust Super Cup club: Wynnum Manly Seagulls / Western Suburbs Magpies (NSW Cup)
NRL club: Wests Tigers
NRL debut: Round 18 v Brisbane Broncos

Pauga started his 2021 Cup season well for Wynnum Manly Seagulls, continuing the good form that saw him win the Brisbane Rugby League A Grade title with the club in 2020. Joining with Wests Tigers mid-season, Pauga made his NRL debut after being named in the centres for the Round 18 clash against Brisbane. In 2021, Pauga played four matches Cup matches for the Seagulls, scoring four tries, before moving to New South Wales.

15. Jordan Grant

Intrust Super Cup club: Brisbane Tigers
NRL club: Melbourne Storm
NRL debut: Round 18 v Newcastle Knights

The powerful forward had been knocking on the door of an NRL opportunity for a number of years, claiming back-to-back club player of the year awards in 2018 with Mackay Cutters and in 2019 for Redcliffe Dolphins. This season, the Tigers prop got his NRL chance in Round 18 for Melbourne Storm against Newcastle Knights, finishing the 2021 season with two NRL appearances and six for the Tigers where he scored two tries.

16. Toby Sexton

Intrust Super Cup club: Tweed Seagulls
NRL club: Gold Coast Titans
NRL debut: Round 19 v St George Illawarra Dragons

A rising young star of the game, Sexton has had an eventful past few seasons, culminating in an NRL debut for Gold Coast Titans this year. In 2019, Sexton won both the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup title and National Under 18 Championship with Tweed Seagulls, as well as the Allan Langer Trophy with Palm Beach Currumbin. Last year, he played one game for the Seagulls in the Hastings Deering Colts due to cancellation of the statewide competitions, but roared back into form with 13 Cup games and four NRL games in 2021.

Young gun Toby Sexton

17. Kane Bradley

Intrust Super Cup club: Mackay Cutters
NRL club: North Queensland Cowboys
NRL debut: Round 19 v Melbourne Storm

Bradley’s NRL debut was an eventful one, with the towering winger getting what he thought was his first NRL try overturned by the Bunker – before later scoring an official try with just under five minutes remaining in the game. Bradley joined the Cowboys in early 2021 as a late pre-season signing from Wests Tigers and worked his way into the NRL with impressive performances for Mackay Cutters in Cup, where he ran out for the team in six games.

18. Xavier Willison

Intrust Super Cup club: Norths Devils
NRL club: Brisbane Broncos
NRL debut: Round 20 v North Queensland Cowboys

Slated to achieve big things early on in his career, young Brisbane Broncos second rower Willison lived up to his potential this season, contributing well to the winning run of the Norths Devils in his seven Cup appearances. The youngster captained Palm Beach Currumbin to the Allan Langer Cup trophy in 2020 and has progressed his football well in 2021, making three appearances in the NRL.

19. Viliami Vailea

Intrust Super Cup club: Redcliffe Dolphins
NRL club: Warriors
NRL debut: Round 20 v Wests Tigers

Vailea was a powerful performer for Redcliffe Dolphins in 2021, running in for seven tries during his 13 appearances. A strong runner, the centre also made 51 tackle breaks playing for the Dolphins. In the lead up to his NRL debut, Vailea was initially named as 18th man for the Round 20 game against Wests Tigers, but was elevated to the game day squad to start at right centre in the first of his two appearances in the NRL this season.

20. Jackson Frei

Intrust Super Cup club: Redcliffe Dolphins
NRL club: Warriors
NRL debut: Round 22 v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

Frei’s NRL debut late in the season was a fitting reward not only for the work the talented prop put into this year, but for many years previously, overcoming a number of injury setbacks to reach the top. For the Dolphins, Frei was a strong performer during his 15 games, scoring three tries and averaging more that 100 metres per game. In his Warriors debut, which was his only NRL game of the season, Frei produced a tackle break and make 14 tackles, missing none, during his 27 minutes on the field.

21. Griffin Neame

Intrust Super Cup club: Townsville Blackhawks
NRL club: North Queensland Cowboys
NRL debut: Round 22 v Wests Tigers

A former junior Kiwi representative player, Neame has impressed at the Townsville Blackhawks for a number of seasons, having played in both the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup and Hastings Deering Colts sides for the club in 2019. This year, Neame featured in eight Cup games where he crossed for two tries. In the NRL, the prop played three games for the Cowboys, coming off the bench to provide impact in each appearance.

22. Jeremiah Nanai

Intrust Super Cup club: Northern Pride
NRL club: North Queensland Cowboys
NRL debut: Round 22 v Wests Tigers

Cairns Kangaroos junior Nanai has impressed for a number of seasons and caught the eye of rugby league fans on Intrust Super Cup grand final day in 2019 when he starred for the Queensland Under 16 Country Boys side in a player of the match performance. In 2021, Nanai again impressed on the big stage, scoring a try in his NRL debut for North Queensland Cowboys. The second rower played for matches in the NRL, adding to his seven appearances with Northern Pride in Cup.

23. Brendan Piakura

Intrust Super Cup club: Norths Devils
NRL club: Brisbane Broncos
NRL debut: Round 24 v Cronulla Sharks

Earmarked as a talent to watch from a young age where he starred in junior representative teams for Tweed Seagulls, Piakura made his Cup debut in Round 1 this year and continued to build his game, scoring three tries in his eight games in Cup. Piakura worked his way to an NRL debut with the Brisbane Broncos which came late in the year against Cronulla Sharks.

24. Daniel Atkinson

Intrust Super Cup club: Brisbane Tigers
NRL club: Melbourne Storm
NRL debut: Round 25 v Cronulla Sharks

It took until the final round of the regular season for Tigers back Atkinson, who has this month signed with Sunshine Coast Falcons for season 2022, to make the step up into the NRL, but it was a well-deserved debut that followed an interesting path throughout the season. In 2021, Atkinson played for four different teams, including the Victoria Thunderbolts, both the Brisbane Tigers' Hastings Deering Colts and Cup teams and the Melbourne Storm.  

Notable mentions from QRL statewide competitions

Taniela Otukolo

Intrust Super Cup club: Redcliffe Dolphins
NRL club: Warriors
NRL debut: Round 15 v Newcastle Knights

It was an eventful fortnight for hooker Taniela Otukulo in the lead up to his NRL debut. The Otahuhu Leopards junior, who was at the ready as 18th man for the Redcliffe Dolphins in the Intrust Super Cup one week but didn't get up playing Cup, was making his NRL debut for the Warriors the next, running out in their Round 15 match against Newcastle. Otukolo, who spent most of the season in the Hastings Deering Colts for the Dolphins and also ran out for Pine Rivers in the Brisbane Rugby League, played three matches overall in the NRL in season 2021.