How Sydney’s NRL rookies found unexpected success
They came in from the cold to warm our hearts in 2020 - rising stars and players who refused to give up on their dreams.
They were given a chance in the NRL and they are running with it.
Some were teenagers and a couple men who simply refused to let injuries and mishaps stop them from achieving their goals.
And with the widespread shutdown of sporting competitions due to coronavirus robbing them of regular football, these players needed to impress.
We take a look at the best rookie storylines of 2020 and the players who made us go WOW.
HISTORY MAKING DEBUT FOR COUNTRY KID
Charlie Staines, Penrith Panthers
It's hard to go past this one as one of the best stories of the season.
The 19-year-old was given his shot in first grade and smashed it.
The youngster, who played his junior footy with the Forbes Magpies, won over NRL fans with his try scoring antics on debut for the Panthers.
Staines became only the second player in the NRL era to score four tries in his first NRL game on a memorable day in July.
"One try is great - four tries is unreal," Staines said after his history-equalling performance in front of family and friends who drove five hours from Forbes to watch him.
The teenager was given a late call-up following an injury to Dean Ware in the lead-up to the game.
It was a great day for Penrith all around as the Panthers inflicted a 56-24 hammering on the Sharks and Staines the star of the show.
WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER GIVE UP ON A DREAM
Adam Clune, St George Illawarra Dragons
While Staines is a young gun, Adam Clune is anything but.
Yet his is a story that resonates with so many players and fans.
The Dragon gave us all something to cheer about in a tough year when the rookie halfback made it onto the field in June.
I never wanted to stop chasing the dream
At 25, it was a debut that could have just as easily never happened due to a string of extraordinary injuries which included a left side groin reconstruction and sport hernia, a dislocated elbow, right side groin reconstruction, a grade-three MCL tear and broken thumb.
But he has succeeded against the odds.
"I just love the game and want to get better," he said.
"I got tunnel vision to get back out there, my love for the game, wanting to be back around the team.
"I never wanted to stop chasing the dream."
'ARGUABLY' ONE OF THE TOUGHEST DEBUTS THIS YEAR
Shawn Blore, Wests Tigers
He might be a rookie but there as no way young forward Shawn Blore was going to take a backward step in his debut.
And it was his decision not to give an inch and toughness which impressed fans of the game.
Blore was sent into battle in the Tigers 26-16 loss to the Parramatta Eels and made the most of the opportunity.
The 19-year-old found himself in a running battle with Nathan Brown but stood his ground, with many praising him as having the best game between the two.
The young gun, who is 108kg and 191cm, was named as a late inclusion onto the bench for the round 11 clash against the Eels and at the time was the club's fourth player to make their NRL debut this season.
Blore join the Tigers after being granted a release from the Penrith Panthers where he had played his junior football and been a junior standout.
He captained the Panthers SG Ball side in 2018 but was sidelined with an ACL injury last year and in 2018 was a Junior Kangaroo, playing against his older brother Dean who was in the junior Kiwis side.
RANDALL ON THE DEFENCE FOR KNIGHTS
Chris Randall, Newcastle Knights
The 24-year-old has been banging on the door of an NRL debut for some time and it finally came in round three against the Penrith Panthers.
Randall came on as a replacement to injured half back Mitchell Pearce within the first 10 minutes of the match.
It was a day to remember for the young Newcastle rugby league tough guy who set a new record in the match.
The young gun produced an extraordinary 68 tackles in the game in one of the best defensive debuts in recent times.
He was a standout in the Knights 14-14 overtime draw with Penrith.
Randall, is a Newcastle local who grew up wanting to play like Danny Buderus and Andrew Johns.
TWO-TRY DEBUT TRIGGERS WATERWORKS
Cody Ramsey, St George Illawarra Dragons
It was a dream debut for St George Illawarra young gun Cody Ramsey but it was his mum who almost stole the show.
Ramsey stunned with a first half double on debut against the Raiders this month.
The 20-year-old, who goes by the nickname, The Flying Plumber, incredibly scored on his first touch on the wing.
And watching from the sidelines were family and fiends and his proud mother Kim, reduced to tears by the emotion of her son's memorable performance.
"I just can't believe that his dream has come true and he is out there doing what he loves and it is just amazing and everyone is here to celebrate with him," she said.
"Cody has worked so hard. It takes a village to raise a child, but Cody has done a lot himself too."
FORMER CARPENTER GETS HIS CHANCE … FINALLY
Andrew Davey, Parramatta Eels
It was one of the feel-good stories of the NRL 2020 season - a 28-year-old former carpenter who almost gave up the game making his debut in July.
Second rower Andrew Davey took the field for his first NRL game against the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles.
From a kid who was playing bushfooty for years ago before that, I didn't think I would make it in the Queensland cup, let alone the NRL
The match came after six years of trying, with Davey, who hails from the Queensland mining town of Emerald, only moving to Sydney two years ago when he joined the Eels.
"It didn't take much to convince me to come. From a kid who was playing bush footy for years before that, I didn't think I would make it in the Queensland Cup, let alone the NRL,'' he said.
He became the second-oldest debutant in history when he ran out against Manly.
ONE OF THE STRANGEST DEBUTS THIS YEAR
Jake Averillo, Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
A Canterbury junior hailing from Moorebank, Averillo was tipped at the start of the season to make a big impact this year. And that's exactly what he has done.
The young five eight made his debut in round two against North Queensland, starting off the bench in front of a near empty ANZ Stadium as the coronavirus pandemic escalated.
Rating as one of the strangest debuts in the sport due to the unprecedented times, it will be one he is unlikely ever to forget.
The 19-year-old, who has extended his contract at the club until the end of 2021 knew he needed to perform due to the widespread cancellation of NRL feeder comps due to COVID-19.
And since his debut Averillo has done much to cement his spot at the Bulldogs.
The teenager suffered a setback in July when caught up in a COVID-19 outbreak.
He was stood down from training and playing duties for a number of days after potentially being exposed to the virus after his parents visited the Crossroads Hotel in Casula.
FROM FAMOUS BLOODLINES TO NRL DEBUT
Albert Hopoate, Manly Warringah Sea Eagles.
He comes form a family well known in rugby league circles so there was plenty of interest when Albert Hopoate made his long-awaited NRL debut for the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles,
Hopoate was sent into the match against Melbourne Storm in round 16 and made his presence felt.
The son of John Hopoates, turned more heads when he took on his own brother in the NRL.
In their first ever meeting, Albert produced a stunning try-saving tackle on his brother Will in the match between the Sea Eagles and Bulldogs.
Albert learned his trade in Manly Warringah's UNE Harold Matthews and SG Ball Cup sides.
Originally published as How Sydney's NRL rookies found unexpected success