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Upwards from QRL: The 2023 graduates

There is no doubt there is plenty of rugby league talent in Queensland. 

From grassroots through to the Queensland Maroons, there is an abundance of skilful players, talented referees and committed coaches who impress. 

Thirty-one players graduated from playing in Queensland Rugby League's statewide competitions to the NRL and Super League in 2023, as well as one coach. 

The 2023 graduates

1. Will Warbrick: Falcons to Storm

The athletic winger - a member of the All Blacks Sevens squad that was beaten by Fiji in the gold medal game at the Tokyo Olympics - joined Melbourne Storm at the end of 2021 and spent most of 2022 season plying his trade with the Sunshine Coast Falcons in the Hostplus Cup, scoring 10 tries in 14 games. The 25-year-old, whose skill in the air is enviable, made his NRL debut in Round 1 of 2023 against Parramatta Eels and finished the season with 17 tries in 25 games, averaging 131 run metres per game.

Upwards from QRL in 2023: Part one

2. Bronson Garlick: Tigers to Storm

The 27-year-old hooker, the son of former South Sydney Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters hooker Sean Garlick, played 16 games for Brisbane Tigers in 2022 where he scored one try, made 425 tackles with 92.19 per cent tackle efficiency, and averaged 90 run metres per game. Off the back of his fine form with the Tigers, Garlick made his NRL debut with Melbourne Storm against Parramatta Eels in Round 1 of season 2023. He finished the year having played 22 NRL games. He also ran out for fellow Storm feeder club Sunshine Coast Falcons four times in 2023.

Bronson Garlick debut jersey presentation

3. Alofiana Khan-Pereira: Bears to Titans

The 22-year-old try-scoring machine was on a mission to excel further in 2023, starting with pre-season training at Gold Coast Titans. Khan-Pereira was one of five Bears players named in the Hostplus Cup Team of the Year after a stellar 2022 season, which saw him score 25 tries in 19 games. From that, the winger debuted in the NRL in Round 1 of 2023 against Wests Tigers and he finished the season with 20 tries, five try assists and an average of 113 run metres per game in 23 appearances for the Titans.

Alofiana Khan-Pereira: 'The excitement machine'

4. Taine Tuaupiki: Bears to Warriors

The Bears flyer signed with the Warriors for season 2023 off the back of a stellar 2022 Hostplus Cup season which saw him win the Petero Civoniceva Medal for best and fairest, Rookie of the Year and fullback in the Hostplus Cup Team of the Year. Averaging 147 metres a game, he scored 14 tries, provided 22 try assists, made 105 tackle breaks and 25 line breaks. The exciting fullback - dubbed 'the magician' - made his NRL debut for the Warriors in Round 3 against the North Queensland Cowboys and finished the season with five appearances.

Taine Tuaupiki: 'The magician'

5. Jonah Pezet: Tigers to Storm

The 22-year-old halfback kicked 12 goals with a 100 per cent conversion rate in 10 games for Brisbane Tigers during Hostplus Cup season 2022 and was just as good for the 2023 Cup premiers this year. Pezet scored one try, kicked 22 goals and registered 2038 kick metres in nine games for the Tigers. The son of former Parramatta halfback Troy Pezet made his NRL debut in Round 3 against Gold Coast Titans and finished the season with two tries, five try assists and two goals in seven games.

Jonah Pezet debut jersey presentation

6. Iszac Fa'asuamaleaui: Bears to Titans

The younger brother of Queensland Maroons talent and Gold Coast Titans captain Tino went from strength-to-strength during seasons 2022 and 2023. The talented prop showed what he could do for the Bears across both seasons. In 2023 he scored one try, made 15 tackle breaks, 207 tackles and averaged 123 run metres across nine appearances for the Bears. Fa'asuamaleaui made his NRL debut against Melbourne Storm in Round 3 alongside his big brother and finished the year with 13 appearances for the Titans.

7. Riley Price: Blackhawks to Cowboys

Since making his Hostplus Cup debut for the Townsville Blackhawks in 2021, Price has elevated and excelled each year. Being the son of Queensland Maroons great Steve Price and nephew to Brent Tate, rugby league is certainly in his blood and it shows. During Cup season 2023, the 22-year-old lock crossed for three tries, made 38 tackle breaks, 374 tackles with a 91.4 per cent tackle efficiency and ran an average of 119 metres per game across 15 games. Price made his NRL debut against the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs in Round 5 and finished the season with two NRL games under his belt.

Riley Price. Photo: Alix Sweeney/QRL
Riley Price. Photo: Alix Sweeney/QRL

8. Jack Bostock: Dolphins to Dolphins

The 20-year-old centre debuted in Hostplus Cup with the Redcliffe Dolphins in Round 2 of the season against Norths Devils and made his NRL debut in Round 5. Throughout the year, Bostock scored four tries across 14 Cup games, kicked eight goals, had four try assists, ran an average of 116 metres per game, had 29 tackle breaks and three line breaks. In the NRL, Bostock finished the year with two tries in four appearances.

Jack Bostock. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL
Jack Bostock. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL

9. Karl Oloapu: Devils to Bulldogs

The 18-year-old five-eighth, part of Queensland Rugby League's Under 19 Emerging Origin squad in 2023, has been a standout coming through the ranks of the statewide competitions in Queensland. Playing for Redcliffe Dolphins in Cyril Connell Challange in 2021 before playing for Norths Devils in the Mal Meninga Cup in 2022, Oloapu caught the eye of scouts down south and headed to the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs. Oloapu, who also represented Toa Samoa at the Pacific Championships, made his NRL debut against St George Illawarra Dragons in Round 9 and finished the season with seven NRL appearances.

Karl Oloapu's NRL debut highlights

10. Keano Kini: Bears to Titans

The electric Burleigh Bears fullback, who was named Duncan Hall Medal winner in the Hostplus Cup grand final for best on field, had a breakout season in 2023. The 19-year-old scored five tries across 14 Cup appearances, averaged 199 run metres per game and had 13 try assists, 70 tackle breaks and 14 line breaks. Kini made his NRL debut for the Gold Coast Titans against Parramatta Eels in Round 10 and finished the year with six NRL appearances.

Duncan Hall Medal winner Keano Kini

11. Kulikefu Finefeuiaki: Blackhawks to Cowboys

The hard-running second rower, who was part of the 2023 Queensland Under 19 side, certainly has talent to boot. The Ipswich State High graduate scored two tries across 10 Hostplus Cup appearances for the Townsville Blackhawks in 2023, made a whopping 244 tackles with 90 per cent tackle efficiency and ran an average of 118 metres per game. The 19-year-old made his NRL debut for the North Queensland Cowboys against Sydney Roosters in Round 10 and finished the year with two tries, four line breaks and 137 tackles across 12 NRL appearances.

Kulikefu Finefeuiaki. Photo: Alix Sweeney/QRL
Kulikefu Finefeuiaki. Photo: Alix Sweeney/QRL

12. Valynce Te Whare: Dolphins to Dolphins

Te Whare - "Val Meninga" - is a man mountain who moves like a gazelle. He signed with the Dolphins NRL side from rugby union at the end of 2021 and spent 2022 adjusting to rugby league in the Hostplus Cup. In 2023, Te Whare scored five tries across nine Cup appearances, had one try assist, 36 tackle breaks, seven line breaks and ran an average of 128 metres per game. The 23-year-old made his NRL debut for the Dolphins against Cronulla in Round 10. He finished the season with six tries, one try assist, 41 tackle breaks, nine line breaks and an average of 124 run metres per game across 12 NRL appearances. 

Upwards from QRL in 2023: Part two

13. Blake Wilson: Falcons to Bulldogs

Wilson was electric for Sunshine Coast Falcons in 2022, scoring nine tries across 12 games in Hostplus Cup. His prowess earned him a call from the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs and he headed down south to pursue his dream of playing NRL. That dream became a reality in 2023, when he lined up for the Bulldogs against the New Zealand Warriors in Round 11. Wilson finished the year with six tries across 11 appearances, as well as four try assists, 47 tackle breaks, 11 line breaks and an average of 130 run metres per game.

Blake Wilson. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL
Blake Wilson. Photo: Zain Mohammed/QRL

14. Zac Laybutt: Blackhawks to Cowboys

What a year for the Townsville Blackhawks centre. The younger brother of Kyle Laybutt, he scored eight tries across 15 Hostplus Cup appearances in 2023. He also kicked one goal, had seven try assists, averaged 101 run metres per game, made 50 tackle breaks, five line breaks and made 150 tackles. The 21-year-old made his NRL debut for the Cowboys against Parramatta Eels in Round 13 and finished the year with three tries, one try assist, an average of 133 run metres per game, 11 tackle breaks and two line breaks across four appearances. The young gun also played for the Australian Prime Minister's XIII and PNG Kumuls at the back end of the year.

Kyle Laybutt. Photo: Vanessa Hafner/QRL
Kyle Laybutt. Photo: Vanessa Hafner/QRL

15. Robert Derby: Blackhawks to Cowboys

A speedy and entertaining winger, Derby had a blinder 2023 season. The 21-year-old, who hails from Papua New Guinea, scored a huge 13 tries across 16 Hostplus Cup games. He had three try assists, 66 tackle breaks, 10 line breaks and averaged 181 run metres per game. Derby made his NRL debut for the North Queensland Cowboys against Parramatta Eels in Round 11, where he registered four tackle breaks and 215 run metres, before he rounded out the year with appearances for the PNG Prime Minister's XIII and the PNG Kumuls.

Robert Derby. Photo: Alix Sweeney/QRL
Robert Derby. Photo: Alix Sweeney/QRL

16. Max Plath: Seagulls to Dolphins

The talented utility, who can play in the halves, at hooker or at lock, started the 2023 season with Wynnum Manly Seagulls, scoring two tries across three Hostplus Cup games, before being signed with the Dolphins. Plath then went on to score six tries across 15 Cup games with the Dolphins. Across 2023, the 22-year-old also had one try assist, made 453 tackles and averaged 96.5 run metres per game. Plath, the son of Brisbane Broncos’ four-time premiership winner John Plath, made his NRL debut for the Dolphins in Round 14 against the New Zealand Warriors and finished the year with one try in two NRL appearances.

Max Plath. Photo: Jacob Grams/QRL
Max Plath. Photo: Jacob Grams/QRL

17. Brayden McGrady: Dolphins to Dolphins

A move to Redcliffe in 2023 paid dividends for the premiership-winning back. McGrady – who has previously played with Tweed and Norths in Cup – signed with the Dolphins and earned his long-awaited NRL debut in Round 17 against the Parramatta Eels, scoring with his first touch of the ball. While it was his only NRL appearance in 2023, McGrady had another strong Cup season, scoring 12 tries across 17 matches for Redcliffe and recording 62 tackle breaks, 13 line breaks, six try assists and an average of 125 run metres per game.

18. Harrison Graham: Dolphins to Dolphins

The former Wynnum Manly Seagull is another who joined the Dolphins in 2023 and was handed his first NRL jersey as a result. The 22-year-old hooker made Wayne Bennett’s line-up six times this year – including his Round 17 debut – and impressed particularly in defence, racking up 205 tackles. In his third Cup season, Graham was dangerous for Redcliffe, scoring three tries, setting up another four and making 156 tackles across seven appearances.

Graham pressing forward as JMK back-up in 2024

19. Jimmy Lenihan: Bears to Titans

A two-time premiership-winning coach with the Burleigh Bears, Lenihan was promoted to the top job with the Gold Coast Titans in 2023. Having been an assistant coach for the club for three and a half seasons, Lenihan took on the role as interim head coach following the departure of Justin Holbrook and snatched an upset victory over the Brisbane Broncos in his first game in charge. Across his 11 games in the role, Lenihan guided the Titans to three wins.

20. Jacob Alick: Bears to Titans

The 2023 Hostplus Cup second rower of the year, Alick’s red-hot form for the Burleigh Bears saw him rewarded with four NRL appearances, making his debut in Round 19 against the Dolphins. For the Bears, he played in 19 matches, including the 2023 grand final. During this time, the forward sensation scored 12 tries and registered 32 offloads, 13 line breaks and three line break assists, as well as an average of 117 run metres per game. In defence, he was strong for Burleigh with 95.5 per cent tackle efficiency and an average of 23 tackles per match.

'My number one goal is to play NRL': Alick

21. Dan Russell: Tigers to Dragons

PNG international Russell proved age is no barrier to your dreams when he made his NRL debut at 27. A long-time force in Cup, the former Souths Logan and Mackay talent – who has played across a number of positions over his career – had a standout season with the Brisbane Tigers in 2022, switching between centre and second row. His efforts for the Tigers earned him a contract with the St George Illawarra Dragons for 2023 and by Round 19 he nabbed a debut against Canberra Raiders. Russell remained in the forward pack from there, notching up eight NRL appearances, and was huge for the Dragons in defence, averaging 38 tackles per game.

Third time a charm for Russell

22. Ethan Quai-Ward: Magpies to Bulldogs

After starting season 2023 with the Souths Logan Magpies – averaging 180 run metres across his eight appearances - the Brisbane Broncos affiliate sought a release from the NRL club to head south and join the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs. The move saw the powerful outside back earn a debut in Round 19 against the South Sydney Rabbitohs. The 24-year-old scored one try in his sole NRL appearance of 2023 and has returned to Souths Logan ahead of 2024, earning a train-and-trial with the Broncos.

Quai-Ward: 'There's nothing like game fitness'

23. Liam Horne: Devils to Castleford Tigers

The popular Cup identity and premiership-winning hooker was one of Norths’ best in 2023, solidifying himself a starting spot after the opening weeks. He scored nine tries in 14 appearances, had two try assists, one line break assist and 90.9 per cent tackle efficiency. These efforts saw the PNG international pick up a fulltime contract with the Castleford Tigers in July. Horne transitioned to the United Kingdom and played five games in the Super League, starting on four occasions for his new club.

24. Arthur Miller-Stephen: Cutters to Eels

A product of the Queensland Rugby League systems - having played Mal Meninga Cup with Mackay Cutters - young gun Miller-Stephen made his NRL debut in Round 23. A Queensland Country Under 16 representative, Miller-Stephen scored one try against the St George Illawarra Dragons in his sole appearance of the 2023 season.

Upwards from QRL in 2023: Part three

25. Trai Fuller: Dolphins to Dolphins

A Cup stalwart, Fuller’s debut into the NRL was one that was a long time coming. In his sixth season with Redcliffe, the one-club fullback was crowned the 2023 Petero Civoniceva Medallist for a year that saw him score 14 tries and assist in another 11 four-pointers in 17 appearances. A constant threat, Fuller also had a jaw-dropping 136 tackle breaks, 20 line breaks and an average of 167 run metres per game. His well-deserved promotion then came in Round 25 of the NRL, when he ran out for the Dolphins to fittingly score on debut.

Petero Civoniceva Medal winner Trai Fuller

26. Tom Weaver: Seagulls to Titans

Touted as a playmaker of the future, 20-year-old Weaver made his debut for the Gold Coast Titans in Round 25 and went on to see out the season with the club. He started at halfback in all three of his appearances. For the Tweed Seagulls, Weaver was instrumental in their fight to qualify for the finals, finishing the season with 12 try assists, 12 line break assists and two four-pointers for himself.

‘It’s going to be a special one’: Homegrown halfback proud of Titans debut

27. Sione Finau: Tigers to Dragons

Young outside back Finau gained attention from the St George Illawarra Dragons after a standout Colts season in 2022 with the Brisbane Tigers. The 20-year-old gun played 16 matches for Colts – and had one appearance in Hostplus Cup – before he earned an NRL development contract and headed down south. Finau was then awarded his debut in Round 26 of the 2023 NRL season but his time on the field was cut short due to injury. Finau is signed to the Dragons for another two seasons.

28. Blake Mozer: Magpies to Broncos

The Round 27 clash between the Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm was a true showcase of Cup talent. In the final regular round of the season, five up-and-comers debuted in that game out of Cup, starting with Souths Logan hooker and Queensland Under 19 captain, Mozer. The talented rake continues to go from strength-to-strength at the Cup level, finishing his first season under coach Karmichael Hunt with seven tries, nine try assists, seven line break assists and a total of 449 tackles across 18 matches. In his sole NRL appearance with the Broncos, Mozer had 24 minutes on the field and made 14 tackles.

Blake Mozer: 'It's such a surreal experience to put this jersey on'

29. Josh Rogers: Seagulls to Broncos

Rogers was the 2023 Hostplus Cup leading point scorer and five eighth of the year, picking up both awards for a second consecutive season. His debut with the Broncos therefore came as little surprise, following a stunning season with Wynnum Manly. In 21 games, the playmaker scored 11 tries and kicked 98 goals – with an 86 per cent success rate – and had 20 try assists, 18 offloads and 21 line break assists, underlining his attacking prowess. For Brisbane, Rogers played an entire match where he kicked five conversions and made 24 tackles.

Josh Rogers: 'A brilliant player'

30. Sualauvi Faalogo: Falcons to Storm

A star of the future, Faalogo strung together quite the highlights package in 2023. The electric outside back was one of the Sunshine Coast’s best, scoring 13 tries in 18 appearances for the Falcons and amassing 2746 run metres. He also recorded a massive 109 tackle breaks with nine try assists and 13 line breaks. He kept this sensational form going for Melbourne in his sole NRL match, putting on two thrilling tries against the Broncos, including one combined effort with Ryan Papenhuyzen that saw the pair dance through Brisbane’s defence to create an instant season highlight.

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31. Jack Howarth: Falcons to Storm

A part of Melbourne’s top 30 squad for the past two years and having represented Queensland Under 18 and Under 19, it was only a matter of time until Howarth’s NRL debut came around. The versatile 21-year-old was another who played for the Storm for the first time in Round 27. After a solid season with the Falcons – which included three tries, three try assists, five line breaks, 62 tackle busts, a 112 run metre average and 90.6 per cent tackle efficiency – Howarth played 65 minutes against the Broncos. He made 31 tackles in this time – missing just one – and notched up 80 run metres.

32. Joe Chan: Tigers to Storm

After two years playing with Catalans in the Super League, Chan returned home to Australia in 2023 to join the Storm. The forward, who mostly plays in the back row, spent most of the season in Cup with the Brisbane Tigers, scoring five tries and racking up 1909 run metres and 320 tackles in 18 appearances, including a grand final victory over Burleigh. In his NRL debut with the Storm, he played 21 minutes and made 71 run metres and 10 tackles.

Joe Chan. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL
Joe Chan. Photo: Rikki-Lee Arnold/QRL
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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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