Liddle in the middle of second-tier snag
Wests Tigers fans got a glimpse into the future with 19-year-old hooker Jacob Liddle making his NRL debut off the bench in the 32-22 loss to the Bulldogs on Saturday night.
Liddle is contracted until the end of the 2018 season and is seen by many as the long-term successor for Robbie Farah.
The Wyong Roos junior said he grew up with two passions in life; rugby league and surfing, however the latter has taken a back seat in recent times with surf conditions near his home in St Mary's virtually non-existent.
Having played the game since the under-6s, Liddle linked up with the Tigers and made an immediate impact in the Holden Cup, winning the Players' Player award for the 2015 season.
He has since juggled his duties in the NYC with a promotion to the Intrust Super Premiership where he has tested himself against bigger bodies.
Liddle was in line to play for the NSW Blues under-20s Origin side next week, and said he was in "shock" when Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor told him he would be making his debut against the Bulldogs instead.
"It's what every kid dreams of… It's been my dream ever since I was 10 years old," the rookie said.
"I rang all the family and they couldn't believe it. They were stoked.
"I didn't know what to expect coming into it. It would have been good to come away with a win on debut, but you can't ask for much more than that.
"I just tried to hold my own in the middle and give good service."
Liddle did more than just "hold his own" against the Bulldogs with 19 tackles, a line break and a try that he will never forget.
The 19-year-old did what all good hookers do by backing up on the inside close to the line, and he was rewarded when Elijah Taylor popped an offload in the 44th minute for him to latch onto and score.
"It still feels like a dream," he said when asked about the try.
"I got a lucky pass on the inside and it opened up and I got a little sneaky one. It was good."
However, Liddle is unlikely to play in the NRL again this year due to second tier pressures on the Tigers' salary cap.
The club was forced to apply for a salary cap exemption to allow him to replace Robbie Farah (Origin), as well as Matt Ballin and Manaia Cherrington who are out injured.
Cherrington is expected to be fit for the Round 20 Telstra Premiership game against the Dragons, while Farah – who has been Liddle's idol since he was a child – will also be available after Origin.
"For salary cap reasons he probably won't play anymore, which is disappointing," Taylor said after the game.
"I thought he was great. He didn't look out of place for a second, especially against a team with those big guys. His defence was superb, and obviously his try was great.
"Early in the week we knew that was the way we were going to go. It was on the back of the fact he played in our ISP team against the Warriors last week and he handled that really well. That was a good trial for us.
"He's played plenty [of games] in that competition this year, but we knew that playing in that game against that team over there was going to be a really good test for him."
Taylor explained the situation to Liddle, his family and friends in the sheds after the game, while also heaping praise on his outstanding debut.
The 19-year-old said he was still hazy on the ruling, but wouldn't be deterred after seeing teammate Luke Brooks go through a similar situation in 2013.
"This has been a great opportunity but I'll just keep developing as a player and hopefully get a run next season," he said.
Perhaps the most touching moment of the night came after the game when Liddle and his mum Kellie embraced in the grandstand after the game.
The Australian Schoolboys representative paid tribute to his parents for their support over the years and was just glad he could share the special moment with them.
"She was overwhelmed, I think.
"It was just an amazing experience because they've followed me the whole way and backed me and all the support I get from them is amazing."