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With current Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler taking over the reins from Todd Payten as NSW Under 18s coach in 2016, Fittler picked a squad that now boasts 631 games of NRL experience, including three players who have won multiple State of Origin series under his tutelage, and another three players who have been part of the extended squad over the past two years.

The Young Blues played the curtain raiser to Game Two of the 2016 series and current Blues forward Cameron Murray captained the side to a resounding 26-0 victory at Suncorp Stadium. Murray was rewarded for his efforts with a Man of the Match award.

The Blues back three led the way with Zac Lomax scoring a double, Isaac Lumelume scoring a try and setting up two more, and Ryan Papenhuyzen proving a handful at fullback.

Five years on, nswrl.com.au looks back at some of those players who have gone on to forge great NRL careers.

Cameron Murray

After leading the Young Blues to victory in 2016, Murray has established himself as one of the hardest working forwards in the NRL. At just 23 years of age, Murray already has featured in 103 NRL games, a Grand Final appearance, seven Origin games and one Test match for Australia.

A leader on and off the field, Murray has been touted as a future NSW and Australia captain; a position he only reinforced with his performance in the 2021 NRL Grand Final.

While South Sydney Rabbitohs fell agonisingly short to Penrith Panthers, Murray finished the game with 97 running metres, a linebreak, tackle bust, offload and a game high 53 tackles with none missed.

In 2019, Murray was also awarded the Dally M Lock of the Year.

18s Highlights

Payne Haas

Since making his NRL debut in Round 8 of the 2018 season, Haas has developed into one of the most unstoppable forces on the field. Standing at 194 cm and weighing in at 117 kg, Haas continues to churn out numbers and minutes rarely seen over the past four seasons which is even more impressive when you consider he is still only 22-years-old.

Haas would eventually debut for NSW in Game One of 2019, and has appeared in a further six Origin games including two series wins. Haas has also made two test appearances for Australia.

The 2021 series was Haas’ career best after he finished with five tackle busts, 124 running metres per game and 86 tackles at an efficiency of 98.8%.

He was awarded his third straight Broncos Player of the Year in 2021 and took home the 2021 Dally M Prop of the Year award.

Nick Cotric

At just 23 years of age, Nick Cotric has 107 NRL Games, an Origin appearance, two Tests for Australia, a Grand Final and a Dally M Rookie of the Year award appearance to his name.

He debuted for his junior club, Canberra Raiders in Round 1 of the 2017 season and made his name as one of the best finishers in the game, scoring 43 tries in 93 games.

The 2019 season provided plenty of career highlights for Cotric, making his Origin debut in Game One, playing in an NRL Grand Final and finishing the year off with two appearances for Australia.

Cotric signed with Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs for the 2021 season although he is now on his way back to the nation’s capital for 2022 on a three-year deal, much to the delight of the Raiders faithful.

NSW U18s 2016 side

Ryan Papenhuyzen – Wests Tigers (57 NRL Games)
Isaac Lumelume – Cronulla Sharks (6 NRL Games)
Tui Afualo – Parramatta Eels
Nick Cotric – Canberra Raiders (107 NRL Games)
Zac Lomax – Illawarra Steelers (49 NRL Games)
Dean Blore – Penrith Panthers
Sean Sullivan – Penrith Panthers (21 NRL Games)
Emre Guler – South Sydney Rabbitohs (41 NRL Games)
Reece Robson – St George Dragons (24 NRL Games)
Jai Whitbread – Brisbane Broncos (30 NRL Games)
Cameron Murray – South Sydney Rabbitohs (103 NRL Games)
Samuel Radovu – Penrith Panthers
Brodie Jones – Newcastle Knights (42 NRL Games)
Tom Starling – Newcastle Knights (37 NRL Games)
Pasami Saulo – Newcastle Knights (16 NRL Games)
Payne Haas – Gold Coast Titans (61 NRL Games)
Keaon Koloamatangi – South Sydney Rabbitohs (37 NRL Games)