Hayne's high praise for rookie halves
It's the debut edition of what has the potential to be the most competitive and compelling individual rivalry of the next decade and even Jarryd Hayne has been awestruck by the rookie seasons of Ashley Taylor and Nathan Cleary.
The respective No.7s for the Junior Kangaroos in 2015 and 2016, Taylor and Cleary will go head-to-head for the first time in the NRL in Saturday's all-important showdown at Cbus Super Stadium between the Titans and the Panthers.
The rich carrot of a finals berth awaits the winning team with the fortunes of both clubs resting in the hands of playmakers with less than 40 games between them.
Taylor and Cleary have received widespread praise for their composure as 21 and 18-year-old playmakers in the top grade and Titans fullback Hayne said he could barely recall such young players looking so comfortable.
"I probably haven't seen two halfbacks come through as good as them," Hayne said.
"To be able to be so level-headed and able to get the simple things right, that's probably the biggest thing that has really got my attention."
Since his introduction into the first grade team Cleary has become the predominant kicker in general play for the Panthers and terrorised Wests Tigers fullback Jordan Rankin last weekend with his floating bombs.
On top of watching Penrith's games in recent weeks Hayne has done additional video sessions on Cleary this week ahead of his return to the fullback position and knows he will be put under pressure.
"I watch a lot of footy. He's got a really good kicking game and the biggest thing from a fullback's perspective is that they like going high inside the 50," Hayne said.
"He's got a great kicking game and a good head on his shoulders.
"It's great to see two young halfbacks. They're going to be going at it on the weekend and both have a similar style but in their own unique way."
With 196 minutes of game-time in his legs after almost two years away the challenge for Hayne and the Titans on Saturday will be to manage his workload so that his impact in attack is not diminished.
It is likely that he and left centre Josh Hoffman will rotate between positions at times during the game to lessen the load on Hayne while in defence the 28-year-old is confident of organising a defensive line he is still becoming familiar with.
Hayne's move to fullback has come about with the return of Taylor after he was rested from last weekend's win over the Knights and the Titans' newest No.1 believes his time spent in the halves in his first three games back will allow for a smooth transition in attack.
"The best thing about attack is that I've been the playmaker at first receiver so I pretty much know every play and to be at the back now, that helps," said Hayne, who scored tries in each of his past three games against the Panthers.
"They're both great halves and to play with Ash, who is your typical halfback, very structured and plays square to the line and is real good like that and then you've got Tyrone who is a bit more the five-eighth who plays a bit more sideways and really creating space for the outside men.
"It's a great balance and the more we play together the better we'll be."