Young guns loving home away from home
They certainly didn't set out to make a case in favour of the player draft. But if we end up having one, Cheyse Blair, Matthew Gillett and Ben Barba have provided ample evidence that it won't be the end of the universe as we know it.
Take the lanky Parramatta winger Blair, an eye-catching performer in Parramatta's tumultuous 29-20 win over Manly on Saturday night. Born in Murwillumbah, a Bilambil Jets junior and former Sydney Rooster, Blair baulked when his manager suggested last year he sit down for a chat with the Eels.
"I said 'I'm not going to Parra – no way!'," the 20-year-old said. "Now I'm glad I've come here.
"I'm a beach boy, I'm not a westie. I was living at Bondi, I've moved to Cronulla so I'm still near the beach.
"I get heaps of phone calls from family, from home, because I never see them. I've got a few mates who fly down, I get tickets for them."
Parra's own PR department hyped up Blair's Parramatta Stadium clash with David 'Wolfman' Williams, a dual most observers say he won conclusively. "There was heaps about going against him," said Blair. "I thought I went alright, yeah. I knew it was going to be tough.
"A few people said I had to run a bit harder and put a bit more grunt in the tackles."
Then there's Matt Gillett, the Brisbane utility whose childhood bedroom was plastered with St George Illawarra posters. Yes, that's how young he is and how old you are – he didn't follow St George or Illawarra as a little tacker, he supported the joint venture and grew up dreaming of playing for it.
On Friday he scored the match-sealing try in a 28-20 won over the Dragons at Suncorp Stadium. The man who kicked ahead for him to pounce on the pill in the final 10 minutes? Winger Gerard Beale, who is said to be joining St George Illawarra next year.
"Bealey got it, grubbered through – I guess I was just in the right spot at the right time," said Gillett, left dazed by an early collision with Michael Weyman. "Everything's coming together nicely – I can't really put it down to anything."
One might say that winger Steve Turner struck a blow for free agency with his late try for Canterbury when they beat Gold Coast 30-20 at Skilled Park yesterday. Turner was supposed to be a Titan a few years back but opted to stay in Melbourne, forcing the Storm to compensate Gold Coast with other players.
But what of the afternoon's real star, Dogs fullback Ben Barba? Born in the Northern Territory and raised in Queensland, his only real connection with Sydney is that he lives and works there. It's worked out pretty well for him, too. After playing a key role in a magnificent 105 metre try and stopping big boppers Nate Myles and Luke Bailey from scoring, Barba is tipped to join Gillett on the Queensland bench.
"There's a lot of great Queenslanders running around – that hasn't come across my mind just yet," Barba said. "I want to continue playing good footy and if rewards come off the back of that, I'll take them
"It's good to get in that (Emerging Queensland) mix. They're so successful and it's a real honour to be able to learn under Wayne (Bennett) and Mal (Meninga). I'll take whatever opportunities I get."
Put Barba on the Queensland bench and a "draft" will be what the Blues defenders feel as a runs straight past them.