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20 stars for 2022 | Izack Tago

While the Penrith Panthers sit atop of the NRL mountain, the next generation of talent is already on the rise. And it’s outside back Izack Tago who looks set for a fulltime role in first grade as the reigning premiers aim to defend their title in 2022.

A St Marys product who came through Penrith’s junior representative program, Tago was part of a dominant Panthers outfit in The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup – finishing 2021 as outright leaders with a 12-1 record when the competition was cancelled after 15 rounds.

Tago made a huge contribution in the nine matches he played, amassing 10 tries, four try assists, eight line-breaks, 12 offloads and 34 tackle busts.

It didn’t take long with that form for Tago to earn a chance in the NRL, making his debut from the interchange bench in Round 13 against the Wests Tigers.

The milestones continued only a week later when he crossed for his first NRL try, with early signs suggesting there’ll be many more.

Tago, 19, went on to have six top-grade appearances in 2021, where he made 11 tackle busts while averaging 38 minutes played, 58.8 run metres and 13.2 tackles per game.

To cap off the season Tago had the invaluable experience of being part of the NRL squad on their way to Grand Final glory and seeing his teammates hold aloft the Telstra Provan-Summons Trophy, before being deservedly named the Ben Alexander Rookie of the Year at Penrith’s Merv Cartwright Medal night.

Although 2021 was a massive year of development for Tago himself, the fleet-footed centre is only getting started.

An outside back position is up for grabs in 2022 following the departures of Paul Momirovski, Brent Naden and Dally M Centre of the Year Matt Burton, which could lead to a breakout season for Tago as the Panthers embark on their NRL Premiership defence.