Parker: 'My son could play with Sione'
Corey Parker knows how quickly time can fly.
When he trawled back through the memory banks to the first time he was named in an Australian team – the 1996 Australian under-15 Merit team – current Kangaroos teammate Sione Mata'utia had only just been born.
When Parker was selected to play for the Australian Schoolboys in 1999 alongside the likes of Justin Hodges, Brent Tate and Jamie Lyon, Mata'utia was a three-year-old getting picked on by older brothers Peter, Chanel and Patrick.
"That's the same age as my young bloke now," Parker realises, a sense of shock coming over him.
So if young Wylei Cash Parker follows the same elite pathway as his father, he could conceivably one day play in an Australian team alongside someone who his dad played with.
"Wow. That is crazy. If my boy was to play for Australia one day [he could play with Sione]."
In terms of age there are no two players with a greater gap between them than Parker and Mata'utia although when the 32-year-old Broncos skipper looks at the team sheet for Saturday's Four Nations opener against the Kiwis, the 18-year-old Novocastrian is not too far behind him.
Barring a warm-up catastrophe Mata'utia won't become the youngest Kangaroo of all time this week but Parker says the 11 debutants named in the larger 24-man squad should see the next month as an opportunity to cement a career in the green and gold, something he wasn't able to do until two years ago.
"You talk to the guys that aren't here through circumstance, it burns. The moment you can't get there for one reason or another, it does hurt," Parker said of the senior members of the squad missing through suspension and injury.
"Through my career I've had my ups and downs. I sat out of six years of Origin trying to get my Origin spot back. Every game I watched in those six years, it burned. That desire to try and get back into that arena, it was a big motivator for me.
"I got my first green and gold [jersey] in 2011, didn't get one 2012, went on the World Cup in 2013, we won the World Cup, as a group we had a great tournament. They're jerseys that you don't walk past.
"To hear comments from people say that the jersey doesn't mean much, it's rubbish. Go and ask 11 of those debutants whether that jersey means something to them or not. It's a prestigious jersey. To represent your country, whether you're doing it for rugby league or whatever your country might be – it's special."
Although only a relative newcomer to the Kangaroos leadership group, Parker knows that with such a high turnover of players added responsibility falls onto the shoulders of players such as himself, Greg Bird, Ryan Hoffman and captain Cameron Smith.
There will be five debutants for the Kangaroos in their tournament opener against the Kiwis and Parker said it is incumbent on the experienced members of the team to create an environment in which the new players can flourish.
"We were just having a yarn before, us older mature guys, we were just talking about how we're obviously 30 and above and there are guys that are 18, 19. There's a gap there but the future's very bright for the Australian side," he said.
"Obviously there's a fair bit of importance on the senior guys in the side. When you're 18 and you've been injected into the Australian side you bring that enthusiasm and that excitement and they're going to follow in the path that's set. It's really important that senior guys in the group show the way there. It will be exciting.
"When opportunities come up you really make sure you take control with two hands and these guys will do the same. The older guys that have been here and done that before really need to set the way so those guys can pick up and just enjoy their footy."
With Aaron Woods the only out-and-out front-rower in the Australian team to meet New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium, Parker is likely to reprise his role as prop that he played to such great effect for the majority of the NRL season.
Parker was moved into the front row at club level for the first time since 2005 this season and played 18 games with the No.10 on his back and in this age of 'middles' and 'edge forwards', the veteran of 299 NRL games said he will simply do as he is told.
"When you play for Australia you'd play anywhere," he said. "But I've played front row all year for Brisbane, did stints there for Queensland. If 'Sheensy' (Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens) wants me to play front row, so be it."