Panthers winger Brian To'o says he made it a goal to fill the gulf left by Josh Mansour's departure while his skipper has branded him an "absolute freak" who deserves to be in the Origin conversation.
To'o averaged 165 metres per game in his breakout 2019 season then 174 last year but that has climbed to an astronomical 247 metres per game after seven rounds of 2021.
The only other men above 200 are Warriors fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (226 per game in six games) and Storm No.1 Ryan Papenhuyzen (209 across five games).
"Yeah, Saucey [Mansour] was a big metre-eater for the club, the foundations that he left, it's something I wanted to kind of embrace and just try and go to another level," To'o told NRL.com.
"I'm just doing my job for the team.
Match Highlights: Panthers v Knights
"The boys really count on me to do my job and try and get us out of our end. They're always encouraging me to take those hard carries and they help me lift.
"I try not to get too far ahead of myself. Just trying to keep getting better, perfect my game week in week out so that I can stay on top of my game."
Mansour's replacement Charlie Staines had a fine game of his own against the Knights, particularly in defence, with some huge reads on Bradman Best. He is a very different mould to Mansour and To'o though, more of a speedster and ball-player, and is averaging 84 metres after six games, making To'o's work out of the backfield even more vital.
So damaging is To'o on early set carries, rival teams are now bombing to him almost exclusively in order to try and pin him with a good kick chase and stop him from winding up for yardage runs on the second play of sets.
Brisbane had some success in round six forcing three errors from him but the 22-year-old still had five kick defusals, 272 metres and a whopping 15 tackle busts.
In Thursday night's win over the Knights, To'o produced a career high 337 metres and four busts with his fourth try and eighth line break of the season.
To'o said he knew teams were now planning strategies to try and limit his impact.
"I think so … at times the ball was being played and I wasn't getting the ball but they were still saying my name!" he laughed.
"One of the Saifitis in the scrum was calling my name, he looked at me and I smiled. He just gave me a little grin and I smiled back at him."
Acrobatics from To'o seals the deal for Panthers
With each performance To'o is staking a stronger claim for a State of Origin debut but he said he was trying not to let it crowd his thoughts.
"Yeah, a lot of my family members keep talking about it," he said.
"That would obviously be nice to get a start but I don't want to think about that right now, I just want to focus on playing good footy week in week out. That's pretty much my main priority right now."
His Origin claims were backed up by Panthers co-captain and NSW halfback Nathan Cleary, who branded the winger his side's best player through their unbeaten 7-0 start to the season.
The magic of Brisbane
"He's an absolute freak – he does it week in, week out," Cleary said.
"I still reckon he's super underrated, just how much work he gets through for our team.
"He's been our best player so far this year and I can't speak highly enough of what he does.
"Just watching him, a kick goes over and you look around and think 'who's going to take a carry', he's there every single time. Every time he runs the ball it looks like he's going to make a break. He's a beast.
"When he is targeted like last week he just finds ways to get in the game. He's always going to be there to put his hand up."
At 182cm, To'o doesn't fit the mould of towering Blues wingers of recent years like incumbent Daniel Tupou (196cm) and Blake Ferguson (191cm), though he is almost as tall as Storm flyer Josh Addo-Carr (183cm).
That shouldn't stop him earning higher honours, according to Cleary.
"He'll contest anything that comes his way and I think his lack of height is made up in other areas," Cleary added.
"The way he runs the ball, he's freakishly strong. I think most people out there seem to understand it but just watching, you see this kind of shortish guy but he's an absolute freak."
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