Young rep players


Well, it has been a few weeks since the loss in game 1 of the 2021 Origin series and, this weekend, the mighty maroons will take on NSW at Suncorp Stadium in a quest to keep the series alive.

This is not a new scenario and we have succeeded before in clawing back a series after losing game one, but with loss and several injuries thrown in, changes have been made to the Maroons squad.

A lot of the news has featured on the selection of 18-year-old Reece Walsh, who has played just 7 NRL games before being selected for Queensland, but again, like most things in history, selecting young players with limited big, league experience in high-pressure rep games has happened before.

Commentators have drawn a parallel between Reece Walsh and current QRL Board member, Ben Ikin, who was selected in the 1995 Queensland side at just 18, with a handful of 1st grade matches under his belt.  That year, Qld and NSW could only select players who had signed with the Australian Rugby league (ARL), not with the rival Superleague group, which had just started, so something like 10 of the current Qld squad were unavailable. A host of ARL players, including 18-year-old Ben Ikin, made the Qld side and they excelled, winning the series 3-0 over the NSW side, who still had many of their stars as they had signed with the ARL. 

We can go back further than 1995 to find examples of young players making interstate debuts and excelling. Close to home, Silkwood cane farmers’ son, Kerry Boustead, at just 18 years of age, went from club football in the Innisfail to playing Foley Shield, North Qld, Qld Country, and then Queensland for the 1978 series against NSW, all in the space of a month! His rise to the top was meteoritic and, despite Qld losing the series, Kerry played brilliantly on the wing and was selected for Australia that year, becoming the youngest Australian player up to that time. His rise to the top was a huge boost for the game in Qld, in that era just before the Origin concept was adopted for interstate games.

What Kerry achieved back in 1978 is every bit as impressive as Reece Walsh making the Qld Origin side after only seven NRL games.

Incidentally, other players who have played interstate and then International Rugby League at just 18 years of age include the current NSW Coach, Brad Fittler (selected 1990), and Queensland’s Israel Folau (2008), but Israel had already played a season of NRL by then!

It may be of interest to know that the fastest rise to interstate and international Rugby League occurred back in 1963, when a Rugby Union player called Jimmy Lisle, who was in his early twenties, signed up with South Sydney to play Rugby League and, after just one club match, was selected for NSW and Australia! 

Therefore, when Reece Walsh runs out onto the Suncorp Stadium on Sunday night, he will have achieved a fast rise to Origin footy, but it has been done before and let us hope he has the same success early in his career as former teenage players such as Kerry Boustead and Ben Ikin had for Queensland!

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