Five NRL players set to become free agents and free to sign with Super League clubs in the coming weeks

The NRL is deep into pre-season just like Super League, however down under clubs use a train-and-trial system where players are picked up by clubs to compete during pre-season with the aim of earning a spot on the 30-man roster.

With 109 players on these $1,000-a-week deals across the 17 clubs and only a handful of roster spots available it’s inevitable that some will miss out.

Many youngsters are picked up on development deals with each club being allowed six players on such a contract but for the likes of older veterans they sometimes seek rugby elsewhere, and Super League could be a prime destination for such players.

Former Super League players Josh Reynolds and Jordan Rankin are two of the 109 players on trial but what about those that have had a crack at the NRL but fallen short. Here’s a list of five players that could become free agents and Super League targets.

For reference the Queensland Cup and New South Wales (NSW) Cup are the NRLs feeder league, with many clubs having a hand in the running of those teams who play at what is the Australian equivalent to the Championship.

Young Tonumaipea (Winger/Centre)

Perhaps one of the more well-known names on this list the 30-year-old Samoan has represented his nation and has plenty of NRL games under his belt. He played twice for Melbourne Storm last season having started his career with them and making 43 NRL appearances between 2014 and 2018. During his 45 game career with Storm he tallied 14 tries and is back on a train-and-trial deal following a two-year overseas religious mission in which he also tried his hand at rugby union. Capped five times by his nation, including at the 2017 World Cup where he played all four games, Tonumaipea can play all across the back-line but predominantly as a centre or winger and uses his six foot frame well with speed. Having travelled overseas on mission in Germany he clearly isn’t against European lifestyle so Super League clubs could swoop if Storm don’t sign him to their 30-man roster.

Elie El-Zakhem (Second-Rower/Prop)

El-Zakhem has just left England having featured for Michael Cheika’s Lebanon side where he started all four games at the World Cup. The 24-year-old second-rower is training with Parramatta Eels and could look to Super League if he doesn’t crack the squad considering he’s had a taste of first-class rugby at the World Cup and he played 80 minutes in every one of the 21 games he played in the Eels’ NSW Cup team. Throughout that competition El-Zakhem dominated, averaging 134 metres with the ball per game and 29 tackles at an incredible 94.6% efficiency. The Lebanese international can also play prop so would make a canny signing for any Super League side.

Dane Aukafolau (Second-Rower)

Training with the Roosters, Aukafolau is nicknamed Danger and featured for Manly’s 9s team in the 2020 season. Having impressed in that format he was recruited by NSW Cup team Mount Pritchard Mounties where he featured in every game and played 80 minutes in all of those. Formerly a centre he displays good footwork for a man who is six foot four inches tall and he has played in 91 NSW Cup games across the past six seasons. If the 25-year-old doesn’t make Trent Robinson’s 30 man squad, of which there are three spots available, then he could seek top level rugby league and listen to any Super League offers.

Tristan Sailor (Fullback)

Another versatile back is 24-year-old Sailor who is the son of Wendell, who played internationally in both codes scoring 17 tries in just 16 appearances for the Kangaroos in the 13-man code. The younger Sailor, Tristan, made his NRL debut in 2019 and scored a try that day playing for St George Illawarra Dragons but is seeking an opportunity with the Broncos at the moment. The powerful winger played in the Queensland Cup last year for South Logan, having been released by St George in 2020, and he put on a show in the lesser competition where in round 15 he created four tries whilst running for 234 metres with the ball. Considering the Broncos only have one player spot available and the controversy that Sailor has found himself in prior, previously arrested for aggravated sexual assault but found not guilty, he could find himself without an NRL club and a switch to England in the footsteps of his dad could be on the cards. His father played for Leeds Tykes during his initial switch to rugby union.

Chris Lewis (Second-Rower)

Lewis is one of the more experienced players in this list clocking in aged 30 but also having played 41 NRL games over the past three years. He’s out of contract with Melbourne Storm at the moment but the side have retained him on this train-and-trial deal, which could be a ploy to simply pay him the base rate of $1,000 instead of higher wages on a contract. Alternatively he could be seen as in a fight to make the squad as only one spot remains and the Broncos are trialling five players in total. Playing in the forward pack the former teacher didn’t debut in the NRL until 2020 but has played for the Storm ever since. Lewis could transition well into Super League given the playing time he has amassed lately and considering Storm have only one spot available, and other younger players on trial, he may make the switch to Super League where he has former teammates Albert Vete and Ricky Leutele playing for Castleford and Huddersfield respectively.

Best of the Rest

Other names to note and watch out for would be half-back Bailey Hayward who at 21 made his debut for Scotland during the World Cup. Similarly 22-year-old hooker Kyle Schneider debuted for Scotland at the World Cup and is training with the Cowboys who actually don’t have any top 30 spots to fill. A more senior player is Dan Russell who at 27 has played 85 games in the Queensland Cup and featured for Papua New Guinea at the World Cup.

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