Harry Grant — the NRL’s first ever loan player — is reportedly set to return to the Melbourne Storm for the 2021 NRL season.

His current team the Wests Tigers are out of the finals race, and are looking to the future … one without Grant.

The rookie dummy half is in the Tigers’ side for this weekend, however coach Michael Maguire revealed he will soon begin to test out new spine combinations.

“It’s going to give me an opportunity to look at things over the next few weeks,” Maguire told AAP.

“I’ll definitely be looking at (options) for next year.

“I want to see the depth of some of the people we have in the organisation.”

Rookie race heats up

How Maguire’s plan plays out could determine who wins the Dally M Rookie of the Year award.

Grant did not play in the first two matches of the season and missed another three with a knee injury, but effective in defence and influential in attack, his brilliance shone between rounds three and 10.

Harry Grant is a difference-maker with the ball in his hands.(AAP: Brendon Thorne)

He was even leading the entire Dally M competition midway through the season when voting went behind closed doors.

But even if he plays out the year, Grant’s 15 matches would represent just three quarters of the campaign.

No rookie winner since Chris Sandow in 2008 has played fewer matches (or a smaller portion of a season) … and several of Sandow’s 13 matches that year were miraculous.

Crichton’s coming

Who could challenge Grant?

Elusive outside back Stephen Crichton is tied as the competition’s top try scorer, playing for competition leaders Penrith.

Crichton’s scoring consistency puts him in an elite group.

Name Rookie season Tries (games)
Suliasi Vunivalu 2016 23 (21)
Maika Sivo 2019 22 (25)
Alex Johnston 2014 21 (18)
Bevan French 2016 19 (13)
Nick Cotric 2017 16 (24)
Reuben Garrick 2019 16 (26)
Latrell Mitchell 2016 14 (24)
Phillip Sami 2018 14 (23)
Stephen Crichton 2020 14 (17)

Since 2013 only Maika Sivo (2019), Suliasi Vunivalu and Bevan French (2016), and Alex Johnston (2014) have averaged more than four tries per game of those rookies that have plated in at least 15 matches.

Newcastle’s Bradman Best — another widely fancied rookie — has been impressive in 2020, with seven tries and is still eligible for the award, as despite making his debut in 2019 he has played less than five matches in the Knights’ top side.

But he has played fewer games than even Harry Grant, injuring his ankle a month ago.

The 2020 class

Payne Haas claimed the 2019 Dally M Rookie of the Year over a talented field that included Melbourne’s Ryan Papenhuyzen, Sivo and his Parramatta teammate Dylan Brown and Cronulla’s Briton Nikora.

Beyond Grant and Crichton this year’s crop may not quite match the jaw-dropping calibre of 2019, but there have been some standouts.

The Sharks’ 24-year-old prop Toby Rudolf, Warriors’ edge magician Eliesa Katoa and his bullocking teammate Jamayne Taunoa-Brown have all been effective in different ways.

English Super League veterans aren’t eligible for the award, but George Williams — like John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead and Josh Hodgson before him — has also been effective in his first go around.

Williams’ 170cm Raiders teammate Tom Starling — fresh off two tries in his first start last week — also appears to be one with a bright first-grade future based on his first seven matches.

But he, like the rest of the 2020 class, is chasing Grant.

Tom Starling’s Canberra Raiders play the Sydney Roosters for a place in the top-four at 7.30pm on Saturday night.

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