Legendary NSW fullback Anthony Minichiello says the options the state currently boasts in filling his old jersey – and the wealth of talent coming through – bodes well for the future of the Blues.
The departure of series-winning 2014 fullback Jarryd Hayne to the NFL left a huge gulf at the back but the form of Josh Dugan in 2015 combined with the performances at NRL and representative level of James Tedesco and Matt Moylan – followed by Hayne's return in late 2016 – means coach Laurie Daley is now blessed with an embarrassment of riches in that spot.
If anything the headache will be how to fit so many stars into the same team, Minichiello told NRL.com at a Blues developing players pathway event at ANZ Stadium this week.
"It's a great challenge for all of them," Minichiello said of the battle for the sky blue No.1 jersey.
"Matty Moylan's back end of the year was just outstanding and obviously Tedesco's front half of the year was unbelievable as well. Then you've got Jarryd Hayne coming back into the mix. I think the fullback spot is healthy."
Minichiello's job on the day was to guide the next generation of NSW outside backs through some drills as well as imparting his experiences to help them understand the important of culture and off-field balance in their rugby league journeys.
"We had a good chat with them in there about how they adapt their habits and lifestyle. Obviously you get a lot of gains at training but the most gains away from the footy field," he said.
"We're going to take them through some skills and some positional stuff. I've got the outside backs so I'm looking forward to it.
"We've got different age groups so everyone's at a different skill level but if we can get the younger guys starting to think of how to train and what the pathways are up into the NRL and how the Blues culture is, hopefully that will be a bonus in years to come."
Two of the emerging fullbacks flagged by the Blues pathway system in 2016 were Roosters young gun Latrell Mitchell and Eels try-scoring prodigy Bevan French.
"Outside backs are really strong in the Blues ranks – working the combinations and connections is key," Minichiello said.
"If we can get the juniors to look at what we do here as well – the culture is not just for the top level, it's filtered all the way down to the juniors which is important."
Minichiello had high praise for French, who exploded with 19 tries in 13 games after his mid-season debut for Parramatta.
"His instincts are outstanding; he's a natural try-scorer," Minichiello said.
"He's in the right spot at the right time and that's no fluke for players that always score tries, they have good instincts and they can sense something before someone else and that's what he does.
"It is [tough to teach], he's got a natural ability to be in the right spot at the right time and those things are pretty hard to teach. If you've got that then you can work on some other stuff."
Another factor working in the Blues' favour is the strong form of the NSW players in the recent Kangaroos Four Nations campaign. Roosters back Blake Ferguson was awarded the Harry Sunderland Medal as Australia's player of the series from the wing in place of Penrith's Josh Mansour, who was outstanding before his injury. Dragons fullback Josh Dugan enjoyed arguably his best run of form at centre and Panthers custodian Matt Moylan was man of the match in his only Test to date.
"We've seen some outside backs in the Australian team this year that did really well and I think those guys will come back much better players from that tour," Minichiello said.
"Then we've got some younger guys coming through. The outside backs are strong, we just need to get the right combos there."
Minichiello added it was "vital" to get those developing players up the levels that have been shown by their Queensland counterparts over the past decade or so.
"You've seen the last 10 or 11 years what Queensland have done," he said.
"They've got the key positions all stacked up right and been there for a number of years. Those guys, the guys we're trying to train here are vital to the future of the Blues."
This article first appeared on NRL.com