Young playmakers give a glimpse of possible future Origins
TOMORROW afternoon at Penrith, fans will get a glimpse of what State of Origin may look like during the next decade when two of the brilliant young playmaking minds of the NRL put their outstanding talent - and the 2017 premiership chances of their respective teams - on the line.
Sitting on 18 points and needing five wins from their remaining seven matches to be assured of a finals berth, the Panthers and Titans are desperate for a win tomorrow. And for the winner their respective halfback, Nathan Cleary or Ash Taylor, will almost certainly be the architect of that victory.
Last weekend those rugby league tragics who can't help but watch every round, every week, were treated to a veritable playmaking clinic by Cleary and Taylor. And for an old stager like me it rekindled memories of the likes of Peter Sterling, Alfie Langer and Andrew Johns in their formative years.
Cleary and Taylor were - to roll out a greatly overused narrative - absolutely sensational. So good were they that had either of them not been on the field, their team would more than likely have lost.
It was as though both were sending a reminder to their state's respective Origin coaches that while they may be young in years, between the ears they are skilled, wily and clearly able to handle the big stage.
Next season the Maroons and Blues may both be on the lookout for new halfbacks.
Surely NSW needs to have a long hard look at Mitchell Pearce, who has worn the No.7 jersey 17 times and is yet to lead it to a series win. And while Cooper Cronk is so good he could probably play for Queensland until he is 50, he may well be hanging up his boots at the end of this season.
Many judges smarter than me suggest Cleary is too young to take the step into the demanding Origin arena, but surely the adage "if he's good enough, he's old enough" applies. The leading pointscorer in the NRL, Cleary will be 20 when Origin rolls around next year, the same age as Sterling, Langer and Johns were when they debuted for the their state.
Conversely, Taylor will be 23 in March next year and while the likes of Ben Hunt, Daly Cherry-Evans and Moses Mbye might well be ahead of him in the pecking order should Cronk retire, the Titans No.7 has shown beyond doubt that he has the class and the composure to lead Queensland into the future. And coach Kevin Walters obviously rates him highly because he took him into Origin camp before game three.
But regardless of the respective Origin futures of these young playmakers, tomorrow will be uppermost in their minds. And while the pressure on them may not be Origin-esque, plenty of influential judges will be taking notes.