Arrow on target for long NRL career
The NRL gets its first look at Jai Arrow in Saturday night's sold out double-header at Suncorp Stadium but Broncos teammate Joe Ofahengaue saw a toughness that would take him to the top when the pair were just 12 years of age.
Born just two months apart, Arrow will join Ofahengaue on the Broncos bench against the Sea Eagles having already drawn comparisons with Bronco great Corey Parker and with high praise from former NRL legends such as Scott Sattler.
More than 50,000 people will be present when he runs onto the field for the first time in an NRL game, a far cry from the under-13s carnival in 2008 where he and Ofahengaue were first picked on the bench together in the South-East Queensland Kookaburras team.
Having played his earlier football back home in Auckland, what first struck Ofahengaue about this hard-nosed kid from the Gold Coast was his toughness in the middle of the field.
"It was under-13s when I first seen Jai play and he was one of the best on the field when I made Met West. I think he was playing for South Coast but that's when I first met Jai," Ofahengaue said.
"I really liked the way Jai played because where I come from in New Zealand the white players there didn't really play tough.
"When I come over I saw Jai play in the middle he would tear forwards to shreds, just smash through them. He tackled me a few times and he just surprised me and I really liked the way Jai played."
It's not only his contemporaries that have admired Arrow's approach to the game with Broncos prop Sam Thaiday welcoming the 20-year-old's inclusion in the team to face a Manly pack boasting the likes of Nate Myles, Martin Taupau and Jake Trbojevic.
"He's certainly served his apprenticeship at our club," said Thaiday.
"Come through the under-20s, has been one of their best players for the last couple of years and has been fairly good in the Queensland Cup and I think that's the big test.
"To see these young guys come through and get in that Queensland Cup and play against men and play some tough, competitive football and if they're doing that they're going to be knocking on the door and pushing for positions with guys that are already in the team.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how he goes. It just shows that hard work and determination is what's going to get you a run in this team at the moment."
Named the Broncos' NYC Forward of the Year, Players' Player and Player of the Year at last year's awards night, Arrow has had to prove himself with Norths Devils in the Intrust Super Cup as under-20s teammates in Ofahengaue, Kodi Nikorima, Jayden Nikorima, Jordan Drew and Ashley Taylor all earned NRL call-ups.
Given his progress he was expected to feature during the Origin period but injury to Alex Glenn and suspension of Adam Blair has fast-tracked his first grade debut, and not a moment too soon according to Ofahengaue.
"It just feels like you're waiting for ages when you don't really make your debut," said Ofahengaue, who made his NRL debut in Round 2 last year and has now played 22 top grade games.
"You see all your mates making debuts and we've got mates from other clubs and it just feels like a long time.
"I know we're only 20 or 21 but as a young player you think you'll debut at 18 or 19 so at the moment I'm just real proud of him.
"The best thing about him is that if the coach wants him to do something he'll do it, and that's what we love at the club. Coming through the 20s system with him and if I needed him to take a carry he'd take a carry, it's just the kind of bloke that he is and everyone loves playing with him."
Few players debut in front of such a large crowd but both Ofahengaue and Thaiday are confident that the Queensland under-16s, under-18s, under-20s and Residents representative will take it in his stride.
"He's played in some big semi-finals with the under-20s in front of some big crowds so hopefully he'll just embrace the whole moment," Thaiday said.
"It's a pretty special weekend for him to be debuting actually with the double-header and I'm looking forward to seeing all four teams' fans in the stands cheering and carrying on."
"He will handle it all right," added Ofahengaue. "I think it's just waiting this long to debut, I reckon he'll soak it up and do his best on the field and that's all the team needs him to do.
"He'll take it pretty well because we've got good players like Corey and Sam that have been playing in front of crowds like this for years. I think they'll keep him calm."