NRL stars who factor with ‘X’ appeal heading into the year’s finals

Roosters – Roger Tuivasa-Sheck: The Roosters’ chances of going back to back could hinge on the success of the two fullback experiment. Trent Robinson has tinkered with the ploy of switching Anthony Minichiello and Tuivasa-Sheck between wing and fullback during matches this season, but it has yet to be proven as a stroke of genius. But with seven games left until the finals, Tuivasa-Sheck is the cog in a well-oiled machine that could take the Roosters to the next level.

Rabbitohs – Luke Keary: Two years ago an injury to Adam Reynolds in the preliminary final cost South Sydney a grand final berth. Last year a misfiring Reynolds was not able to get his Rabbitohs past the same game, which is why there is so much pressure on Keary to add some spark to what can be a predictable football team. Michael Maguire still has to work out the best way to utilise his halves but there is no doubt Keary is going to play a significant part in South Sydney’s premiership assault.

Panthers – James Segeyaro: The Panthers have built their success this season on the back of hard work and no-nonsense football. They are a team without a superstar and have overachieved to a degree this season. But they now face their biggest test trying to pick up the pace for the finals. Segeyaro is one of the best attacking hookers in the game and if he can add spark from dummy half, the Panthers might just find the balance of composure and flair to upset the competition heavyweights.

Sea Eagles – Glenn Stewart: The return of Glenn Stewart is a big factor in Manly’s title charge, but probably not as big as the Glenn Stewart farewell tour. While Stewart’s return will be a huge boost from a football perspective, do not underestimate his final weeks as a Sea Eagle will have on the likes of his brother Brett, Anthony Watmough, Kieran Foran and company. It is going to be the motivation that could well unite what seems a fractured football team.

Bulldogs – Josh Reynolds: The NSW five-eighth will return from suspension with a lot to make up for to his teammates. He has played just two of the Bulldogs’ past 10 games, but will return with a fire in the belly given his lack of involvement in recent weeks. He would have learnt a lot through his Origin duties, but his aggression and competitiveness is what the Bulldogs have missed most in his absence. The disappointment of the 2012 grand final loss will also drive the Bulldogs No.6.

Storm – Kevin Proctor: Craig Bellamy has helped turn Proctor into one of the most damaging wide-running forwards in the game. While the Storm’s premiership chances rest on the shoulders of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, they need one of their big men to have a bumper finals series. Proctor runs a great line and can find his way over the chalk. Come finals time, he will need to show why Canberra were so desperate for his services.

Broncos – Ben Hunt: The Brisbane halfback is arguably the most improved player in the competition. He is the only recognised half in the team and has carried the workload of two playmakers, given the Broncos have had fullbacks playing in the No.6 jersey all year. He might have flown under the radar to start the year, but he will have no such luxury if the Broncos reach the finals. If Brisbane want to send off Anthony Griffin on a positive note, Hunt has to fire.

Cowboys – Jason Taumalolo: If this kid can play to his potential, the Cowboys instantly go from contenders to heavyweights. Unfortunately, we have only seen bits and pieces of his best. The Cowboys will no doubt make a run, but if they are to buck a recent trend and avoid potential finals conspiracies, Taumalolo has to fire. He can break a tackle and get his team on the front foot, which would be a nightmare for opposition teams if Johnathan Thurston is presented with open space.

Warriors – Shaun Johnson: On his day, there are very few players better to watch, but the opposite could be said about his bad days. If he can avoid those bad days, the Warriors will be a genuine premiership threat. Johnson carried the Warriors to the grand final in 2011 in his rookie season and can do it again. Now that he has Sam Tomkins as an ally, anything is possible from the Warriors. He has the brilliance but Johnson needs to play with the brain to compete with the front runners.

Tigers – Mitchell Moses: What an incredible showing from Moses against the Bulldogs last Sunday afternoon. That performance alone is enough to suggest that this kid is a superstar in the making, but does he have the goods to lead an understrength Tigers outfit to the finals? If he can strike up a combination with Luke Brooks and Robbie Farah, Moses could prove a nightmare for opposition teams. If he can handle the knocks coming his way, anything is possible.

Dragons – Josh Dugan: Paul McGregor might have to bite the bullet and move Josh Dugan back to fullback to keep his side’s finals hopes alive. Regardless of where Dugan plays, he is the man most capable of producing brilliance in the Dragons outfit. He is strong, fast and elusive, which is why Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop must deliver him quality ball. The Dragons must take risks and play freestyle football to make a charge to the finals, which plays into Dugan’s hands.

Eels – Chris Sandow: While Parramatta have to rely heavily on Jarryd Hayne to produce another end-of-season miracle to make the finals, Sandow has to play a huge part in that. He is on big money and has to live with even bigger expectations from a success-starved group of supporters. There are some dark clouds around his long-term future, but if he can lead the Eels to the finals, he might finally get the seal of approval from the Eels faithful.

Titans – Albert Kelly: Having lost five-eighth Aidan Sezer to a season-ending injury, the Titans needed Kelly to fire. But since then they have dropped out of the top eight and Kelly has hardly been sighted. A knee injury has restricted his contribution, but if he can make a quick recovery, he possesses the Midas touch that could kick-start a Titans push to the finals. Without a fit Kelly, the Titans are a shadow of the football team they were at the start of the year.

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