Versatility Is Trbojevic's Origin Boost
Flexing his muscles in various positions in the Australian backline can only mean good news for Tom Trbojevic's chances of gaining a start for NSW in next year's State of Origin series.
The 21-year-old lines up for his second Test for the Kangaroos on Saturday, playing in the centres against Lebanon at Allianz Stadium. Trbojevic made his Test debut on the right wing against France last Friday night in Canberra.
The lanky fullback prefers the No.1 spot and emphasised his value there to Manly in 2017 by topping the club for line breaks (24) and tackle breaks (95). The fact he headed Martin Taupau (87) in that department shows how dangerous he is to opposition defences.
He scored a try at slightly better than every second week for the Sea Eagles – 12 in 23 games – and that was after missing a month of football with a syndesmosis ligament sprain to his left ankle. The timing of the injury also jettisoned his quest to play for the Blues in the Origin series opener. He was named on extended benches for the final two matches of the series but did not play.
However, his versatility in Australian colours will be impressing NSW selectors and whoever is named as Laurie Daley's successor.
"I guess so although I haven't really thought about that too much," Trbojevic said from the Kangaroos' Manly base this week. "I'm just interested in this moment and I'll play where (Test coach) Mal (Meninga) wants me to play.
"You want to play Origin; you want to play for your state. Everyone wants to do that. Next year I'll sit down and set some goals for myself, but first of all, I have to play well for my club, which is Manly. That's how you get there."
Brett Morris' decision to retire from representative football after the 2017 Origin series opened a door for Trbojevic, but incumbent winger Blake Ferguson, and possibly even Blues fullback James Tedesco, will have cause to keep an eye on the Manly flyer ahead of next year's series.
"Look, Tedesco is a very good player. I haven't really been thinking at all about Origin because it's a long way away," Trbojevic said. "But after the World Cup is over I'll sit down and set myself some goals."
First he has to acquaint himself with the defensive patterns and attacking calls for the Australian backline.
"I played a bit [in the centres] in some of the trial matches, in Papua New Guinea [for the Prime Minister's XIII] and over in Fiji [in the Kangaroos warm-up game] I played some then too," Trbojevic said.
"Apart from that I played two games there last year [for Manly], so I'm not too familiar with the position. But I'll be asking around the squad [for tips] and I'm looking forward to the challenge.
"It's all about defence in the centres and having to make decisions quickly.
"When I first came into the squad Mal said be prepared to play anywhere. Representing your country is the highest honour and I'll take all I learn here back to Manly next year. This experience is massive in just learning how the greats of the game get themselves ready on the field and off the field.
"When you start to find out why they're so good, that helps."
It's already been a wild and wonderful ride for Trbojevic, making his representative debut after barely two years in the NRL. With that comes extra attention and publicity.
"I couldn't say I enjoy it but I understand it's part of this. I was brought up not to have a big head so I've got to thank my parents for that. They've been so good to me so I won't ever get too ahead of myself," he said.
While his playing profile keeps rising on the field, Trbojevic can also claim coaching success.
He and brother Jake help out with the Under-16s at their junior club, Mona Vale Raiders. Their younger brother Ben is in the side that won the grand final in late August with a 28-26 win over the Asquith Magpies.
"Dead set, it's not me or Jake!" Trbojevic said in distancing himself from the Raiders' success.
"We had a run of Sunday [NRL] games so we weren't able to go to any games for about seven weeks. Then on the last weekend we went and they won the Grand Final."
This article first appeared on NRL.com