The key players for each NRL team in 2014

Plenty of money and effort has been spent getting superstar Sam Tomkins to Auckland. Photo / Getty Images
Plenty of money and effort has been spent getting superstar Sam Tomkins to Auckland. Photo / Getty Images

The fortunes of every NRL club could swing on the form and fitness, or otherwise, of a key player in 2014.

A number of big name clubs will be relying on high profile recruits to revive their finals hopes while some of 2013`s success stories will look to the same superstars to again produce.

There are sure to be a new generation of stars born, with another set of players eyeing a breakthrough year.

These are the players who are crucial to their team's hopes in the coming season.

Brisbane - Ben Barba
One of the biggest and most important recruits in the club's history, Barba has been brought in to kickstart the club's struggling attack. Given the Broncos lack of playmaking options it wouldn't surprise to see Barba pop up in the halves from time to time. But it would be a massive gamble if coach Anthony Griffin moved Barba permanently away from his favourite fullback spot.

Canberra - Anthony Milford
The ultra-talented utility has been the subject of a high profile tug of war between the Raiders and Brisbane but it seems he is destined to stay in Canberra for 2014 before moving north in 2015.

Milford showed great promise in his first year in the NRL in 2013 and, if he builds on that, is certain to be key to the Raiders' hopes under new coach Ricky Stuart.

Canterbury - Krisnan Inu
It looks increasingly likely enigmatic Inu will get first shot at the fullback spot at Belmore vacated by Ben Barba and much hinges on how consistently well he fills it. Inu's best is brilliant but his worst can be dreadful and his work at fullback over the years has oscillated dramatically between the two but if anyone can get the best out of him it is coach Des Hasler.

Cronulla - Todd Carney
The mercurial playmaker has been cruelly struck down by injury during both of the Sharks' finals campaigns since joining for the 2012 season. He turns 28 in June and by all rights should be at the height of his powers during 2014. With the club set to face more ASADA off-field distraction next season, they will be desperate to maintain form on the park and Carney is the man who could take the Sharks deep into the finals.

Gold Coast - Albert Kelly
Kelly and Aidan Sezer showed much promise as a halves pairing last season and coach John Cartwright will pin his hopes on the duo continuing their rise in 2014. Kelly has unpredictable brilliance and can crack the modern game's well drilled defences. However a worrying foot injury could curb his start to the new season.

Manly - Josh Starling
The former South Sydney prop looks like an extra from Sons of Anarchy but he is poised to emulate the 2013 efforts of new teammate and fellow frontrower Brenton Lawrence as a surprise packet of the NRL in 2014. With Brent Kite, Joe Galuvao and George Rose all leaving Brookvale a big load will fall on Starling.

Melbourne - Cameron Smith
Could this be the superstar hooker's final season in Melbourne? With Brisbane set to make a big money play to lure him north, the Storm's season is likely to be punctuated by the `will he or won't he?' narrative involving the Storm, Queensland and Australian skipper. Should he decide to leave after 2014 the club will be contemplating a huge void in their ranks.

Newcastle - Jarrod Mullen
Mullen's career has failed to reach the heights predicted when he made his NSW State of Origin debut at 20. But under supercoach Wayne Bennett, Mullen helped spearhead the Knights to within one game of the grand final last season. With Danny Buderus retired, Mullen will need to take further responsibility in 2014 if the Knights are to again challenge for the title.

North Queensland - Johnathan Thurston
The superstar playmaker struggled for consistency as the Cowboys endured a horrible start to 2013 but he was a vital part of their late season charge to the finals. Their past two seasons have ended in highly controversial fashion because of refereeing calls and no one has felt that as keenly as the Queensland and Australian pivot.

Parramatta - Will Hopoate
Hopoate will take time to find his feet again in the NRL after two years' absence on a Mormon mission. But if he does get back to where he left off with 2011 premiers Manly, he can help ensure the misery of back-to-back wooden spoons becomes a fading memory under new coach Brad Arthur.

Penrith - Jamie Soward
Panthers football boss Phil Gould has shown a great deal of faith in signing Soward, 29, on a four-year-deal. Five eighth Soward says he doesn't want to talk about his controversial time at St George Illawarra and how he fares at Penrith might depend on how well he is received by the fans. He'll be looking to have a few big early season games to silence the doubters.

South Sydney - Greg Inglis
Can Souths win the competition without Inglis? Probably not. To name them a one-man band is very harsh given the quality of their roster. However the fact remains without Inglis they struggle. Every Rabbitohs fan will be praying he stays injury free throughout 2014 as Souths seek to break their 43-year premiership drought.

St George Illawarra - Gareth Widdop
The English playmaker moves to the Dragons with plenty of expectation given the club's woeful attack over the past two seasons, but also question marks over how he will fare away from the shadows of former Melbourne teammates Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith. Widdop was a risk the Dragons had to take and coach Steve Price's career could depend on it.

Sydney Roosters - James Maloney
Sonny Bill Williams will garner plenty of headlines in what is probably his last season in the NRL but five-eighth Maloney is just as crucial to the tricolours' hopes, if not more so. Maloney was 2013`s leading pointscorer, he combined with halfback Mitchell Pearce to earn more try assists than any other halves duo, and his second half grand final heroics secured the Roosters their 13th premiership. A big game player.

Warriors - Sam Tomkins
Plenty of money and effort has been spent getting the Wigan superstar to Auckland and the Warriors will be desperately hoping the gamble pays off. The English fullback has scored an incredible 144 tries in 151 Super League games and given that talent it is hard not to see him having a significant impact in the NRL. It might just take him a little time to settle in.

Wests Tigers - Luke Brooks
The next Andrew Johns? No one could seriously burden any youngster with that tag but expectation is high out Tigers way when it comes to Luke Brooks and there are plenty of reasons why. He impressed many in his NRL debut in 2013 and with Benji Marshall gone, Brooks becomes a key figure at the joint venture in 2014.

- AAP

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