Josh Reynolds is walking the same path to NRL superstardom as Johnathan Thurston, according to former Bulldogs captain Andrew Ryan.
The 23-year-old has exploded onto the scene in 2012, playing in what critics labelled a makeshift position of five-eighth, but for those who have been at the club and watched his career closely his rapid emergence as a playmaker hasn’t been a surprise.
Before Reynolds’ breakout season in the NRL he starred in the NSW Cup, winning back-to-back premierships with the Bulldogs in 2010-2011 and scoring 24 tries in 39 games – including a defining performance in the 2010 decider that included two tries and a hand in others to lead the Dogs to victory with a 16-point haul.
In the ultimate compliment to Reynolds, Ryan believes there is no reason why the straight-talking five-eighth cannot replicate the success of Thurston, who went on from the Bulldogs to become Queensland and Australia’s premier half.
Thurston was the unknown kid in 2001, leading the Bulldogs to a Jersey Flegg title, scoring a try and converting two goals in a 12-10 victory over the Sharks. Just three years later he would win a premiership in first-grade, before becoming a two-time Dally M Medal winner.
Ryan captained both players and believes history could be repeating.
“I was lucky enough to play alongside Reynolds in his first-grade debut,” Ryan told NRL.com.
“He wasn’t even sure if he was ever going to play first grade. What he is doing now, his whole attitude and performances, he has been doing in the lower grades for years.
“For everyone around him, it was only a matter of time before he made first grade. Who knows, this is just the start for him.
“I guess I can compare him to a young Johnathan Thurston in the way that when he came through Johno was doing all those things in the lower grades, he was an absolute competitor, he was carving up opposition in NSW Cup and even when he got his opportunity in first grade he was doing those things.
“After the premiership in 2004 he went on to become one of the best players in the world and still is to this day. I guess in that sense I can compare Josh to that. He got his opportunity and he has taken it with both hands. He is actually lifting the team through stages of this year and key moments of games.”
There is a great sense of pride that emanates from Ryan as he talks fondly of Reynolds, in the same way a father speaks warmly of his own child. It demonstrates the culture at the club and the bond that exists between the players, both past and present.
Ryan says the Bulldogs have a long history of producing quality players, one the club is very conscious of maintaining.
“The most pleasing one for me is Reynolds, he is a super guy and an absolute competitor at training and at games,” Ryan said. “Just to see him explode in the last 18 months; he went from dominating NSW Cup and getting his opportunity as a hooker originally and coming off the bench, to now be one of the form five-eighths and I think he finished in the top 10 for Dally M voting as well, that is just great to see and he deserves everything he gets.
“There are guys like Braith [Anasta] – even though he was a Souths junior – he spent a lot of time in our ranks, Luke Patten spent most of his time here, Willie Mason came through the Dogs system, these young guys have been coming through our production line.
“You see a guy like Ben Barba come through, for him to be in the system as potentially a very talented player and now he is a superstar of our game, you can see the change in him.
“Not only the way he plays, the way he holds himself and the way he talks to people, it has been great to see.
“The great thing about the club – and they have always done it, which goes back to Steve Folkes and those coaches – they always had a good blend of youth and experience. Guys who played tough and hard, mixed with young guys coming though.
“These guys have been identified for a few years as being the next leaders of our club, that is why for me to finish up, I knew these guys would come through the system in the next few years.
“I didn’t want to hold them back any longer and they have been performing week in and out this year, they are great guys and they work that hard, they train and are fully committed, the results are there for them.”
A win on Sunday would give Reynolds his third consecutive Grand Final victory with the Bulldogs leading the team from the halves.
Not bad for a makeshift position.