The long, hot off-season is over, the trials are done and dusted, round one is next week – it's a new era for the Greatest Game of All and more stars will be rising in 2019.
Last season we said farewell to some of the all-time greats in Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston, plus several champion players like Luke Lewis, Sam Thaiday, Simon Mannering and Ryan Hoffman.
We all know the likes of Kalyn Ponga, Josh Addo-Carr, Latrell Mitchell and Tevita Pangai jnr are going to be long-term representative stars but I thought I'd look at five under-the-radar stars for this season.
Every rugby league fan has their favourite team and players they get behind each week but irrespective of who you support, these five young guns are must-watch material in the 2019 Telstra Premiership.
Zac Lomax (Dragons)
He is tall, skilful and only played a couple of first-grade games late last season but Zac Lomax for me is the person you must sit down and watch, even if you are not a Dragons supporter. Every time he touched the ball in St George Illawarra's finals push last year he looked dangerous. He’s got his right-foot step and provides a good target for kicks for the playmakers and defensively he's very sound. Zac is also an accurate goal kicker with a very easy to watch technique.
Brandon Smith (Storm)
He played for the Kiwis last year and became a regular in Craig Bellamy's 17 at the Storm each week. This kid is so tenacious in defence it changes the momentum for his side. When you combine that with what he can do when he darts out of dummy-half, he becomes a serious X-Factor. As soon as he comes on, you will see him and Cameron Smith share the field and that's a huge wrap to share time with the greatest to ever do it.
Ryan Matterson (Wests Tigers)
The Wests Tigers recruit, who won a premiership last year with the Roosters, is such a big body on the edge, he can create offloads and he also can produce a tough carry coming out of his team's danger zone early in sets. Ryan also has the brains of a half – he can put a little kick in behind the line and be very dangerous on an edge. I loved playing with Ben Creagh at the Dragons, a tall back-rower who can catch kicks and Ryan has the ability to do this for Luke Brooks.
Nick Meaney (Bulldogs)
Instant attack comes to mind when I watch Nick. He struggled to find a spot at Newcastle and rightly so with Kalyn Ponga in the fullback jersey there last year. However, this kid has the silky out-the-back vision and the smarts to put himself in the right spot in defence. He will be box office in 2019.
Jesse Ramien (Knights)
Power, speed and to top it off a deadly step is exactly what Ramien brings to the NRL. He played last year and every time he touched the footy he scored or looked like he was going to do so. At the back of the field is where he will be used more and he will love the increased workload being the No.1 centre at the Knights. His combo with Kalyn Ponga is a mouth-watering proposition for Newcastle fans.