Brandon Smith, Api Koroisau, Reed Mahoney, Viliame Kikau

Hooker has become rugby league’s new “super spot” under the rule changes that have sped up the game in recent seasons – and four hookers feature in my top 15 buys for 2023.

Clubs anxious for more strike power around the rucks have invested heavily in No.9s over the summer, with Brandon Smith, Api Koroisau and Reed Mahoney getting huge dollars to change colours – and Jeremy Marshall-King doing pretty nicely as well.

Clubs have spent millions on new talent and here, in order, are the players I believe will make the most impact.

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1. BRANDON SMITH

One of the game’s most dynamic ball-players out of dummy-half, will add spark to a Roosters pack that started to show its age at times in 2022. His ability to also play 13 only adds to his value.

2. API KOROISAU

If Smith is the best scooter out of dummy-half in the NRL, Api isn’t far behind. A natural footballer who plays what is in front of him, he will improve the Tigers’ tryscoring clout.

3. VILIAME KIKAU

On his day, as dangerous as any edge runner in the game with his size and strength. Should revel in the new-look Bulldogs team.

4. REED MAHONEY

A main factor in Parramatta’s charge to the grand final last season, Mahoney is a fine ball-player at dummy-half and makes 50-odd tackles per game as a bonus. He’ll thrive as the main man of the new-look Bulldogs pack.

5. ISAIAH PAPALI’I

The Tigers have lacked strike power in the forwards for years – and this guy brings it by the bucketload. Capable of breaking the line and always available as a support runner, he’s set for a huge year – if the Tigers can give him quality ball.

6. ELIESA KATOA

With the Storm losing Brandon Smith, Kenny Bromwich, Jesse Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi, their pack suddenly looks vulnerable. But enter big Eli, a 23-year-old backrower who showed glimpses of what he is capable of in his time at the Warriors.

7. REECE WALSH

The Broncos already have an exciting backline and this speedster will only add to their tryscoring ability. Should slot right in and score and create plenty of four-pointers.

8. JEREMY MARSHALL-KING

I’m underwhelmed by the Dolphins’ roster for their maiden season – but this bloke is an exception. Been on the scene for a few years now but really came of age in 2022 and is right up there with the best hookers in the league.

9. JACKSON HASTINGS

Plenty of Tigers fans believe they got rid of the wrong halfback at the end of last season – and 2023 will see if they are right. Hastings isn’t the quickest No.7 but has enthusiasm and a cool head – two vital assets that should serve the Knights well.

10. TARIQ SIMS

Now in the veteran stage of his career but a powerhouse forward who will thrive under Craig Bellamy’s coaching. A quality individual who will have a point to prove after his unhappy exit from the Dragons.

11. CHARNZE NICOLL-KLOKSTAD

The loss of the great Roger Tuivasa-Sheck hit the Warriors hard late in 2021 and while Reece Walsh proved a fine replacement last year, Nicoll-Klokstad now shapes as the long-term solution to the club’s fullback problems. A massive loss for the Raiders but he should thrive back home in New Zealand.

12. MARATA NIUKORE

Enjoyed his best season in 2022 as the Eels charged to the grand final and should be a great pick-up for the Warriors. His experience and toughness should bring out the best in the young Warriors forwards.

13. KELMA TUILAGI

With Papali’i and John Bateman coming in, someone had to go from the Tigers pack – but they could regret losing this promising kid. He’s an underrated attacking weapon who should enjoy the move to Manly.

14. JACK HETHERINGTON

This guy has real X-factor – but needs to learn to control his aggression to become a genuine NRL star. If he does that, he will be a real force for the Knights.

15. LUKE GARNER

Stood out in a struggling Tigers team last season – so the sky could be the limit at the high-flying Panthers. A wide-running forward capable of breaking the line or slipping a dangerous offload.

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