As Christmas and the New Year approaches we here at the UltraSubmarines are being constantly asked "Who do you think are the Top 10 to watch during 2013"? In the supermarket people are stopping us beside the fish counter, in the pub people are jostling to the bar to talk our ears off and Christmas shopping has become a nightmare as shoppers from Fenwicks to John Lewis are desperate to talk Tigers. So to save us the bother and give us 5 minutes of respite from the onslaught of queries our panel of experts have come up with the definitive list of 10 players to watch during 2013.
1. George Ford
An obvious one, after all what self respecting pundit isn’t proclaiming him the best thing since sliced bread? We’d temper expectations just a bit by saying he reminds us more of a young Andy Goode than Dan Carter or Jonny Wilkinson; capable of moments of sumptuous genius that have a Houdini like ability to unlock the tightest of defences but also capable of the downright stinking. Still a young man at 19 it is 4 seasons since he made his debut away to Leeds in the LV cup, which made him the youngest player in Leicester’s history and that of professional rugby, he has come so far but still has a long way to go. People keep saying next year will be his year; well 2013 will be his year!
2. Fraser Balmain
The Geordie prop has come from nowhere to make a big impact jumping ahead of Ryan Bower and Kieran Brookes in the young prop stakes. Balmain made his league debut in the recent game away to Wasps and acquitted himself well, but the game that really announced him to the Rugby world was the Maori match 12 days earlier where he was part of a dominant scrum. Last year he wasn’t even getting starts in the A team but a 2 month spell on loan to Clermont seems to have made a man of him and he has been a different beast ever since. Signed at 18 after Newcastle passed on him the Newcastle Royal Grammer School graduate chose Tigers over our rivals the Saints and in 2013 we are just about to see the benefits.
3. Jimmy Stevens
Cornish hooker Jimmy Stevens joined the academy at 17 from Redruth and hasn’t looked back. Terrific in the loose and accomplished at the set pieces Stevens has earned comparisons with his veteran club mate George Chuter. Stevens has made 6 first team appearances since his debut against Aironi in the Heineken Cup last January and has looked comfortable in them all. He has made 4 appearances this season including his first two Premiership appearances; against Exeter at home and then away to Sale the next week. Originally from St.Ives Stevens will look to oust Rob Hawkins from third choice at hooker and also look at over taking George Chuter to become Tom Youngs understudy by the end of 2013.
4. Michael Noone
Nicknamed Perfect (as in No one’s perfect) and capable of playing both 6 & 8 Noone made an immediate impression after joining the club from Doncaster over the summer. Man of the Match in his first game for the Extras he scored 3 tries in 4 games at that level before grabbing another try on his first team debut away to Saracens and setting one up at home to London Irish, both in the LV Cup. An Irish international throughout the age groups the Killiney man played for Leinster A but never cracked the main side which prompted the move to Doncaster. Standing well over 6 foot he carries like a wrecking ball and looks like another great bit of scouting by the club.
5. Joe Cain
20 year old Joe “Co” Cain is a second row with a burgeoning reputation. He grabbed a try on his first team debut in the LV Cup, like so many in this list away to Saracens, to go along with 4 starts for the Extras this year and 3 the year before. From just across the county border into Derbyshire, the Burton boy is a nephew of football manager Phil Brown and came through Melbourne’s junior system. A great reader of the game he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. 2013 might be a bit early for him as he finds his way in the game but he is sure to go far.
6. Scott Steele
Scottish Under 20s scrum half Steele made a big impact last season after a successful summer trial. The Dumfries man had been over looked by Glasgow when Tigers stepped into the breach to sweep him up. A typically physical Scottish scrum half Steele has an accurate pass and a boot that could kick the chaps off a cowboy. He came off the bench in last year’s LV Cup semi final against Bath and also made his Premiership debut against Newcastle during the 6 Nations. Son of an international referee his immediate aim will be to make the Under 20 World Cup after missing last years with a cruel leg break; after that he will have his eyes firmly set on taking Sam Harrison’s spot in the match day 23 and also getting full Scotland caps.
7. Andy Symons
Originally a Saracens minis player during a stint in New Zealand with Christchurch’s High School Old Boys he came on to Tigers radar thanks to his coach in New Zealand, one Aaron Mauger! He made a strong early impression and earned a debut away to Llanelli in the LV Cup, only to break his leg and miss the rest of the season. A huge specimen he stands over 6 foot and weighs in at 16 and a half stone, with that obviously comes strong ball carrying but the polish applied to his game in Christchurch is evident with his wide range of passes. Defensively sound, he has a tough job to get ahead of Dan Bowden and Anthony Allen but he has all the skills and just requires some game time.
8. Javiah Pohe
Born in New Zealand to a Cornish mother the family moved back to the Duchy when Pohe was 11. Like Stevens he played for Redruth before making the move up to the Midlands at 15. His father now coaches Melton’s first team and is a Tigers community coach. Pohe impressed in England colours during last year’s FIRA-AER Under 18 championship with his swashbuckling runs which he has also shown during his limited game time in the second team. A strong centre reminiscent of a young Manu Tuilagi he has all the attributes of a modern centre and could be a bolter in 2013 as physically he is already up to the man’s game, not surprising given he was a prop when playing Rugby League in New Zealand.
9. Henry Purdy
A summer signing from Wasps 18 year old Purdy made an immediate impact for the second team as he bagged 6 tries in 4 starts from the right wing. Purdy is equally comfortable at centre where last season he played for England U-18s against Leicester and combines devastating pace with impressive physicality in contact. As his stats bear out his best attribute is his nose for a try, he has the knack of finding his way to the line is like a pig has for finding truffles. A former schoolboy at Cokethorpe, near Oxford, he made his first team debut in the LV Cup away to Saracens and will be looking to push on to England U-20 honours and more first team games in 2013.
2013 could be Morris’s year to establish him in the Tigers first choice back three. Injuries to his rivals and Geordan Murphy’s presumed impending retirement have given him the chance and he has taken it with both hands. He has pace to burn as he showed on his debut against Exeter, where he bagged a brace, and is also comfortable on the wing. As befits an Irish full back he is secure under the high ball and posses a raking kick. At Leinster he found it hard to break through due to the quality ahead of him despite scoring 3 tries in 3 starts but since the move to Leicester he has blossomed under countryman Geordan Murphy’s expert eye and 2013 looks set to be his year.