Family ties galore in under-20s
Thankfully we haven’t seen the last of the on-field prowess of Cartwright, Davidson, Sironen, Garlick or McGahan. And don’t expect the names Bowen, Pritchard, Kaufusi, Perrett, Friend or Tuimavave to disappear from team sheets any time soon, either.
The new breed of talent flooding the Holden Cup Under-20s competition isn’t, in fact, ‘new’ blood after all: here’s introducing the next generation of rugby league superstars – sons, brothers, nephews and cousins of some of the game’s longest-serving legends who, according to the people who know their abilities best, could go on and become even better than their ‘forefathers’.
The Panthers’ Holden Cup team has two famous names in their squad – and coach Garth Brennan believes the ‘new’ Cartwright and Jennings have all the qualities they need to succeed in the NRL.
“I have a lot of time for George Jennings,” Brennan tells NRL.com. “He’s probably lived in the shadow of his older brother Michael at Penrith… but now he’s got the opportunity to cast his own shadow.
“It’s not hard to see the similarities in the way they look and in the way they move on the footy field, too. You can tell they’re brothers; that’s for sure. I think George has got enormous potential – it just depends on how hard he wants to work and how much he wants to be dedicated to making it. I certainly think he’s got the ability to play NRL.”
The Panthers also have another legendary name on their books, a name that helped lead them to greatness in their golden period in the early 1990s.
“[Bryce is] very similar to (uncle) John Cartwright,” Brennan says of the 193-centimetre, 105-kilogram second-rower.
“Speaking to Phil Gould and people who had a lot to do with John Cartwright, they see a lot of similarities in Bryce to his uncle. Bryce still has got a long way to go to reach the lofty heights his uncle John reached, but he certainly has got the Cartwright traits.”
At the Cowboys it’s a very similar story. On their Holden Cup books are the very familiar names of Bowen, Rauhihi and Kaufusi. Coach Todd Wilson says they have the potential to achieve great things, but the opportunity remains just that at this early stage in their careers.
“They’re all individuals themselves and good footballers in their own right, but they do carry some expectation with their names, too,” Wilson tells NRL.com.
“Patrick Kaufusi (the youngest of the Kaufusi brothers) is outstanding – he’s a young powerful forward who as an 18-year-old last season had a really good year for us.”
“Damon (Tauroa-) Rauhihi (son of former Cowboy Paul) didn’t play a lot for us last year but he’s gone well so far this year and gets through a lot of defensive work in the middle for us. He’s a powerful forward, he works hard in the gym and he’s got a bit of strength about him.”
Wilson, though, reserves special praise for Javid Bowen (pronounced Jay-vid), whose cousin Matt has carved up the Townsville turf over an outstanding career that began in 2001. There are similarities in their games, but there are key differences, too.
“Javid’s an outstanding athlete and he’s got a bit of that North Queensland casual approach to life which is really good to have,” Wilson says.
“Javid could be anything if he puts his mind to it – if he commits he could do anything in rugby league.
“He’s a little bit different to Matty – he’s got a bit more height (190cm) to him and he probably doesn’t have that explosive speed that Matthew has. He has that height and a really good fend and he’s still quite quick, but he’s a different type of player. We’ve actually run him at fullback a bit too.”
It’s hard to keep a lid on the expectation, but Wilson believes his group of talented and almost-famous youngsters do have what it takes to do well in the NRL.
“I still think they’ve got a little bit of work to do yet, but if they do continue to work hard opportunities will arise and sometimes at a time when they least expect them,” Wilson says.
“They’re only still very young but you never know when an opportunity’s going to come. They’re all doing quite well in the -20s comp at the moment, which is all they really can do.”
At the Sharks the famous surnames are also resurfacing in their under-20s side, with Reece Davidson (son of Les) recovering from a wrist reconstruction and Winstone Asotasi (brother of Rabbitoh Roy) emerging as top talent in the Sharks pups’ forward pack.
“Les was a tough front-rower down the middle of the field, and Reece plays a bit wider, on an edge rather than the middle third of the field, but he’s certainly a hard runner and a talented ball runner,” Sharks coach James Shepherd says.
“He’s got a little bit of skill on the edge, but not really in the mold of Les.
“Roy’s younger brother (Winstone) came across from the Bulldogs this year and he’s been a real pleasure to coach.
“He’s got a few similarities with his brother. We’re crossing our fingers we get the growth spurt – though he’s not a small boy, he doesn’t yet have the mass or body weight of Roy – but he’s made some good improvements over the summer and put on four or five kilos of muscle.
“He plays in the middle of the field and carries the ball hard like his brother – some good leg speed, some hard carries and good footwork there too.”
So, why the abundance of families of talent, that has also seen the surnames Sironen (Tiger Curtis, son of Balmain legend Paul), Garlick (Rabbitoh Jackson, son of former Souths captain Sean) and McGahan (Storm playmaker Matt, son of legendary Kiwi Hugh) reemerge over the past year?
Even the Pritchards (Eel Kaysa, brother of Bulldog Frank), Perretts (Lloyd, brother of clubmate Sam), Friends (Titan Zach, brother of Warrior Nathan) and Tuimavaves (Warrior Adam Tuimavave-Gerrad, cousin of Evarn) are going around again. And famous rugby families the Ofahengaues (Bronco forward Jo, nephew of former Wallaby Willie) and Umagas (Storm centre Cade, son of legendary All Black Tana) are getting a run, too.
“I think like anything, if you grow up in an environment where an activity or sport [is performed regularly] – it could be painting or music or anything – you tend to enjoy it, appreciate it and become good at it,” Shepherd says.
“Growing up in the environment, where rugby league’s a big part, creates an affinity and a love for the game where you do become good at it.”
North Queensland’s coach Wilson agrees.
“The boys play it from such a young age, they grow up with it and it’s what they do best,” he says.
“I guess not all children or relatives of players will go on to play, but these boys have really grown up with it… and they’re lucky enough to have the opportunity. It’s been bred into them.”
Panthers coach Brennan says that ‘breeding’ could set them up for a great future in the game.
“They have the help and the knowledge from their elders who have been there and understand the pressures with the training and playing and the demands… and with that background it helps deal with the pressure,” Brennan says.
“We’re talking about elite athletes here – there are probably some similarities to racehorses and the bloodlines and there’s something to take into consideration when recruiting I suppose!”
If these second-generation future superstars have their own children, you could almost call them ‘pure footballers’. They’ve been bred for success, just like those before them.
Follow Nick on Twitter: @nicholasjanzen