As the first team selected in the NSWRL Pathways Program, uncertainty often surrounds the NSW Under 16s selected to take on Queensland in each year’s interstate battle - but with Sunday’s 28-14 victory at Suncorp Stadium, the decisions made by coach Scott Jones paid off.
The team, developed throughout several Pathways sessions this year but given just two days’ preparation for the interstate fixture, was not expected to be perfect when aiming for the NSWRL’s third successive under-16 title. What was expected, however, was that the values instilled in Brad Fittler’s Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues would be evident in the younger age group.
According to Jones, the team showed early signs of what it takes to star for their state on the Origin stage.
“It was a nervous win,” Jones told NSWRL.com.au. “At the end of the day, the kids haven’t been in an arena like that, they made a lot of errors that we would’ve liked to have cleaned up - but it was an Origin win.
“Our motto all along was ‘whatever it takes’ and they did that. They put a lot of pressure on themselves and they came out in the back end, the absorbed that and got the job done.
“That’s what we asked of them.”
There were more than a few parallels between the under-16 victory and this year’s Holden State of Origin series - most evidently Game Three, played at the same venue just four days prior. Like the senior team, the junior Blues sustained early pressure before hitting back on the stroke of half-time to get back in the game - and this time, it gave NSW a platform to then secure the victory.
Several individual efforts - none less inspiring than captain and front-rower Trey Mooney - could be highlighted as promising signs for the state’s future.
“Trey’s a very admirable kid, he just gets the job done and he’s a real leader,” Jones said. “For a 16-year-old kid to play all 60 minutes in the front row, that’s a special effort.
“They’re the type of kids we want to keep producing through the Pathways and hopefully go onto ‘18s next year, ‘20s and then with ‘Freddy’ and ‘Bedsy’ and the main boys in the near future.
“We’ve got a very strong Pathways program, there’s a lot of players that are eligible for selection and we were confident that we picked the right kids. Obviously today’s result proved that.”
The program, of course, is not just an opportunity to develop skills in players, but in the coaching ranks as well. Jones, who also coaches the Parramatta Eels in the UNE Harold Matthews Cup, was given the head coaching role this year after working under Brad Fittler and Danny Buderus as a development coach in the 2017 NSW side.
“I was extremely privileged to work under two legends of the game last year,” Jones reflects. “It’s not only the chance to work with them in 2017, but more the opportunity that they’ve given me this year to appoint me as head coach.
“They’ve given me guidance and support throughout the year, I’m constantly in contact with them and they’re very open and honest with me about what they’re doing and what they can pass down to us.
“That’s a massive rap for both of them and what they’re trying to implement from the top down.
“It’s some really positive signs for New South Wales going forward.”