After current Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler won two NSW Under 18s games from two attempts, he moved on to the top job in 2018 and was replaced by True Blue Mark O’Meley.
There was plenty of promise in O’Meley’s squad including what is now 253 games of NRL experience, ‘the fastest man in the NRL’, a Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues extended squad member, as well as a Newcastle junior who just one year earlier had scored one of the best game winning tries you’ll ever see while playing for the NSW Under 16s.
The Young Blues played as a curtain raiser for Game One of the 2018 State of Origin series and despite being down early in the game, they fought back and a late try to Stefano Utoikamanu sealed a 16-10 victory at the MCG.
Three years on, nswrl.com.au looks at some of the players who have gone on to make a name for themselves in the NRL.
Utoikamanu came through the Parramatta Eels pathways systems and made his NRL debut for the club in Round 9 of 2020 against Newcastle Knights aged 19.
Before Utoikamanu had even played one NRL game, Wests Tigers secured his services from 2021 on a three-year deal. He’s proven himself to be one of the best rising stars in the NRL after being selected by the Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues coaching staff to be a part of the extended bench for Game Three of the 2021 Ampol State of Origin series.
Since being a part of the Blues set up, the 191cm man mountain went to another level at the back end of the season, scoring several tries rarely seen by a player of his size. With Utoikamanu only having one year of full first grade under his belt and still getting accustomed to the rigours of being a week-in-week-out NRL player, Tigers fans have plenty to look forward to in the coming years.
Utoikamanu finished the 2021 season with 21 games, six tries, 35 tackle busts, 18 offloads, 97 metres per game and a tackle efficiency of 94.2%.
HIGHLIGHTS | Under 18s Origin
A highly touted Newcastle Junior, Best’s size, strength and speed had him on the Knights radar from an early age and he made his debut just 15 days after his 18th birthday.
In 2020, Best became a shining light for the Knights, who played finals football for the first time since 2013. Best and Kalyn Ponga started to form a dangerous left edge combination and as a result, Best had his best season to date.
He finished the 2020 season with eight tries, four try assists, five linebreaks and 153 running metres per game.
While on his day, Best can be one of the most damaging centres in the NRL, arguably his career highlight came playing for NSW Under 16s in 2017 where he finished off a full field effort, scoring on the stroke of full-time and securing a win for the Blues.
After debuting for St George Illawarra Dragons in Round 19 of 2019, Saab found himself in and out of first grade over the next two seasons. At the end of the 2020 season, it was announced Saab would be making a move to the peninsula and since then he has proven himself as one of the most athletically gifted finishers in the game.
Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler gave Saab the nod for their first round clash of 2021 and the master coach was paid back in full. Saab finished the season with 27 games, an astonishing 26 tries, 17 linebreaks, 37 tackle busts, six try assists and 116 running metres per game.
Saab’s spectacular 2021 season saw him move into third place for most tries in a season for Manly behind Tom Trbojevic (2021) and Phil Blake (1983).
The 2018 NSW U18s side
John-Paul Nohra – Parramatta Eels
Jason Saab – St George Dragons (34 NRL Games)
Bradman Best – Newcastle Knights (31 NRL Games)
Bronson Xerri – Cronulla Sharks (22 NRL Games)
Tallis Angianga – Sydney Roosters
Jock Madden – Newcastle Knights (3 NRL Games)
Pheonix Crossland – Newcastle Knights (16 NRL Games)
Spencer Leniu – Penrith Panthers (37 NRL Games)
Maurice Trindall – Penrith Panthers
Stefano Utoikamanu – Parramatta Eels (24 NRL Games)
Egan Butcher – Sydney Roosters (15 NRL Games)
Shawn Blore – Penrith Panthers (18 NRL Games)
Duwayne Fuimaono – Sydney Roosters
Tommy Talau – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (35 NRL Games)
Matthew Doorey – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (18 NRL Games)
Jalal Bazzaz – Illawarra Steelers
Jaron Purcell – Newcastle Knights