If there was one player in the Intrust Super Premiership you wouldn't want to try to replace, it was Josh Drinkwater – but Gus Garzaniti is thankful for the opportunity.
Drinkwater had been arguably the competition's form player over the first seven weeks, leading the Western Suburbs Magpies to an unexpected top spot on the Intrust Super Premiership ladder. The 25-year-old was making a big impression – but his second stint in the Wests Tigers' system came to an abrupt end.
Signed with the Catalans Dragons until at least the end of 2018, Drinkwater left big shoes to fill in a side which had begun to establish itself as a premiership contender. That's when an 18-year-old local junior gets the call from coach Brett Hodgson.
Garzaniti, a product of the Narellan Jets, earned his debut in the Intrust Super Premiership on Sunday, having progressed through the Magpies' Junior Reps teams and into the Tigers' Jersey Flegg outfit. The result didn't go Western Suburbs' way in their Round 8 clash with Wentworthville, but it was still a win for the young halfback.
"It meant heaps to me, especially only being a young kid and only playing a few games of '20s this year and last year," Garzaniti told NSWRL.com.au. "It was very surprising, but really honoured to be called up by 'Hodgo.'
"Especially with all of my family that came out to watch on Sunday, it meant the world to me just seeing them all smiling and happy after the game. I'm happy it's making them happy as well."
Drinkwater's shoes were big ones to fill, but the more experienced playmaker had his understudy prepared for the 2018 season.
"It's always tough filling in for an in-form halfback like 'Drinky,' but I'll still take it game by game and hopefully the wins will start coming around for us," Garzaniti said. "I did the pre-season with 'Drinky' so he was a big help for me, just game management-wise and things like that.
"He was happy to be a part of my footy."
Having played off the bench in Round 7, Garzaniti set up the Magpies' only try in a promising sign for the rest of the season. His continued development is now a major focus for Hodgson.
"(Drinkwater) has been very good for us in the first seven weeks of the competition," Hodgson tells Show 'N' Go, "but what this competition does, it allows opportunities for kids to come through the Flegg system.
"Gus Garzaniti, who came off the bench for us on the weekend, he was very good and had some classy touches. We're expecting him to go up another level from what he did, to be a little bit more confident."
Garzaniti has been named for his first Intrust Super Premiership start this week, as the Magpies prepare to take on the St George Illawarra Dragons at Jubilee Oval. That match will kick off at 11.45am AEST on Sunday morning, broadcast live on Fox League.