Generation Next: Origin stars of the future
While State of Origin is renowned as a brutal contest played by hardened warriors, the selections of young Roosters Daniel Tupou and Aidan Guerra for Game One of the 2014 series proves that there will always be a place for the game’s most exciting young talent.
The players named in the composite side below might not make it to the big game for at least another few years, but they are most certainly already being groomed for their time in the Origin arena by their respective states – watch out for these guys over the next few years.
1. Valentine Holmes (Cronulla & Queensland): Holmes has been a sensation for the Sharks’ Holden Cup side this year, and even managed to force NRL star Anthony Milford into the halves in the recent Under 20s State of Origin clash. With his Sharks all but out of the 2014 finals race, expect Holmes to make his presence felt in the top grade in the very near future.
2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith & New South Wales): ‘DWZ’ made his first grade debut earlier in 2014 with a stellar two-try effort against the Raiders in torrid conditions. The Panthers have plenty of talented outside backs on their books but this kid looks almost certain to become a first grade star in the coming years.
3. George Jennings (Penrith & New South Wales): Like Watene-Zelezniak, Jennings faces some stiff competition for a place in the Panthers’ first grade side, but if his bloodlines are any indication Jennings has what it takes to blossom into an Origin-calibre player. The younger brother of Blues and Roosters star Michael, Jennings has had injury setbacks this year but it’s only a matter of time before he makes his mark.
4. Brenko Lee (Canberra & Queensland): Lee has been a force for the Raiders in the Holden Cup over the last couple of years and is a Queensland representative at Under 20 level. With the Raiders struggling badly in 2014 he’s likely to get a chance in first grade sooner rather than later, and it would be no surprise if he established himself there immediately.
5. Javid Bowen (North Queensland & Queensland): The nephew of Cowboys and Maroons great Matthew Bowen, Javid has all the skills required to be a star in his own right and was strongly considered for the vacant fullback position at the Cowboys before the club opted to convert Michael Morgan. The Cowboys would like to hold him off a first grade debut for a little while yet, but his claims for a place may soon become irresistible.
6. Moses Mbye (Canterbury & Queensland): The Noosa junior made his fist grade debut earlier in 2014 and put in a fine performance out of position in the centres. With the Bulldogs first-choice halves selected in the Blues squad, Mbye will get his opportunity to impress in the halves during the 2014 rep period and many of the game’s top judges believe Mbye is set for a massive future in the game.
7. Luke Brooks (Wests Tigers & New South Wales): Such is the hype surrounding Brooks, some pundits had him included as a possible bolter for the Blues squad this year, however his performances in the early part of 2014 have been a little hit or miss. His talent is undisputable, however, and the Blues hierarchy are confident he will soon emerge as the answer to their long-standing halves issues.
8. Lloyd Perrett (Canterbury & Queensland): Unlike brother and Kiwi representative Sam, Lloyd Perrett has declared his allegiance to Australia and is making a huge impression in the lower grades, winning selection in the Maroons’ Under 20s side. Still in his teens, Perrett is a massive man and an even bigger prospect, and he looks set to make his mark in the powerful Bulldogs pack in the very near future.
9. Michael Lichaa (Cronulla & New South Wales): Lichaa made headlines earlier this year when he sealed a surprise move to the Bulldogs from 2015, but in his limited first grade appearances he has proven himself a player of the future, earning selection in this year’s City Origin side. Long regarded as the next Robbie Farah, the Blues will be hoping Lichaa can live up to those lofty expectations.
10. Jake Trbojevic (Manly & New South Wales): One of the game’s brightest front row prospects, Trbojevic made a brief debut for Manly from the bench in late 2013 and is not far off adding to that tally. Trbojevic produced a powerhouse effort in the 2014 Under 20s Origin clash and will no doubt have the same impact in first grade in the coming years.
11. Jack Bird (St. George Illawarra & New South Wales): The term ‘rheumatoid arthritis’ doesn’t exactly lend itself to tough teenaged rugby league forwards, but Dragons rising star Bird has managed to forge an impressive reputation at the junior level while dealing with a severe case of the ailment over the last few year. His attitude to playing through the pain is a testament to his Origin-readiness, and he was a star in this year’s Under 20s Origin clash.
12. Corey Oates (Brisbane & Queensland): Broncos fans have been teased with glimpses of Oates’s talents over the past year, but club sources are adamant we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg at NRL level. Often relegated to the wing or limited minutes from the interchange bench, Oates will have the opportunity to impress in first grade during the 2014 rep period and with the likes of Thaiday and Parker getting on in years, Oates is a crucial part of the future for both the Broncos and Queensland.
13. Brenden Santi (Wests Tigers & New South Wales): Santi has accomplished the rare feat of playing international football before making his first grade debut, representing Italy in all three of their matches at the 2013 World Cup. A strong runner with plenty of skill, Santi is back at the Tigers and expected to press his claims for first grade selection as the 2014 season progresses.