Andrew Johns has picked out the five most outstanding NRL players yet to turn 22, making a frightening observation for NSW fans.
While the Blues are enjoying a period of dominance, having won three of the last four series, that could be short-lived if the prediction Johns has made about the next generation of greats is on the money.
Asked to pick five young guns who will dominate for the next decade, Johns identified Roosters stars Sam Walker (19) and Joseph Suaalii (18), boom Broncos winger Selwyn Cobbo (19), Warriors fullback Reece Walsh (19) and Cowboys speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (20).
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“Four of those are from Queensland,” Johns said on Wide World of Sports’ Immortal Behaviorraising his eyebrows, while also observing that there was a dearth of quality halfbacks coming through, with Walker the only No.7 on the list.
Of the five Johns listed, three of the Queenslanders could end up being long-term fullbacks at club level, potentially complicating Origin selection for the Maroons down the track.
Cobbo, who is having a breakout season for the Broncos, having scored nine tries in 11 games, is firming for a Maroons debut on the wing this year, while Tabuai-Fidow got his first taste of Origin at center in a game three win last year.
Both Walker and Walsh are seen as long-term Origin prospects for Queensland, leaving Suaalii, who is still more than two months away from his 19th birthday as the lone player on Johns’ list with a long-term career ahead in sky blue.
At this stage of their careers Johns sees Suaalii, Walker and Cobbo as the top three players of their generation, with Walsh and Tabuai-Fidow trailing them.
He predicted that Walker would attract the most lucrative contracts due to the scarcity of brilliant halfbacks.
“Joseph Suaalii’s still 18?” Johns asked, shaking his head. “He’s the one. He’s one definitely.
“He’ll eventually go into the centres, it won’t be too long until he goes into the centres, and I see him being one of the best centers in the competition. We saw him in defense the other night on Kikau. Gosh !”
Johns then moved on to Cobbo, saying “we can all see, eventually he’s going to be a world class fullback”. Johns expects him to transition into the centers before developing into a top No.1.
While Suaalii and Cobbo are arguably the most breath-taking players on Johns’ list, he said Walker “could be the top earner in the competition in the next 10 years”.
“Halfbacks are very rare,” he added.
While Walsh was an obvious fourth name on the list, Johns had a caveat for Cowboys flyer Tabuai-Fidow, saying he needed to make fullback his long-term position to guarantee his place among the competition’s elite.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in Johns’ list was the omission of classy five-eighth/back-rower Josh Schuster, who has made a big impression since making his debut for Manly as a teenager in 2020.
Now 21, Schuster has become one of the Sea Eagles’ most dangerous attacking weapons on the left edge and will take over from the departing Kieran Foran in Manly’s famous No.6 jersey next season.
Yet Johns left him out of his top five and had a warning for Schuster about his conditioning.
“He’s got the talent, he’ll go to five-eighth next year with Kieran Foran gone,” Johns said.
“Big five-eighth. A bit of a worry for me, Josh came back, he’s been out injured, and he’s massive. I think he’s put on some weight in the off-season.
“We all know the talent … to be truly elite you’ve got to tick every box and that’s about being professional away from training, not just turning up to training and training hard, it’s about the extras and how you prepare for training and how you prepare your body.
“So that might be the challenge for Josh but we can all see the frightening talent he’s got.”
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