Broncos teen sensation 'NRL-ready'
He came to prominence last season representing Queensland in both under-18s and under-20s and now Gehamat Shibasaki's former 20s coach has declared that in 2017 he will take the next step into the NRL.
A descendant of Japanese pearl divers who settled in the Torres Strait in the late 19th century, Shibasaki turns 19 on February 18 but has been training with the Broncos' NRL team throughout pre-season and is a chance to make his senior debut at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines next weekend.
It's a meteoric rise for a young man who completed all of his primary school in the Torres Strait before returning with his family to Townsville to complete high school, only joining Townsville Brothers in under-11s because of the passion his father – also named Gehamat – and younger brother had for rugby league.
By the age of 15 he had been signed to a scholarship by the Broncos and is being tipped to be the club's latest NRL teen sensation at some point in 2017.
Now an assistant coach at the Titans, Craig Hodges had Shibasaki in his first year of under-20s last year and has absolutely no doubt that he will feature in first grade before the year is out.
"I'd be absolutely shocked if he's not playing first grade this year. I'd be shocked and disappointed," Hodges told NRL.com of a player who scored 16 tries in 24 Holden Cup appearances last season.
"If they're good enough they're old enough and he's definitely good enough.
"The most impressive quality for me was his composure defensively. Every young fella can attack and everybody judges them on their attack and looks at their attack but I've been coaching for a few years now at a few different levels and he's as good a defensive outside back as I've seen.
"He'll be pressing for an NRL spot very, very shortly. He's a high quality footballer and an even better young man which is very impressive."
His family's humble beginnings and the opportunities being laid out in front of a player of his talent are what is driving Shibasaki to the elite levels of the game.
He recalls fondly his time growing up in the Torres Strait where fishing and having fun were the primary priorities but understands by spending time around NRL stars that with dedication he can forge a better life for himself and his family.
When David Mead went down with a minor knee injury at Broncos' training on Monday it was Shibasaki who slotted in immediately on the right wing and he is determined to be ready when his time does come.
"I'm still learning from the bigger boys but it's given me a lot of confidence though when I do come back to my own age group," Shibasaki said of training with the NRL squad.
"I still feel that I've got heaps of learning to do. If I do [play NRL this year] it'd be very lucky but I'd be happy. At the moment I'm just taking all the information in and hopefully in the next couple of years I'll become a better player.
"Growing up I wasn't interested in league, I was more interested in basketball. I fell into rugby league when I first started playing under-11s because my younger brother was so into it and so was my dad.
"Dad played a bit of footy but he watches it a lot and loves the game. When he tells us to go training he tells us to look at the opportunities we've got compared to what him and my mum had.
"They never got the opportunities that we've had so when we see the bigger boys and how they're living, Dad just keeps pushing us to keep going.
"He doesn't want us to go through what they went through growing up so Dad's biggest push was using them as an example of one side and trying to push us to the other side to live a better life.
"What you can achieve in the game when you work hard is pretty good so I thought I may as well keep going and not look back."
Shibasaki was just 17 when he joined the Broncos' under-20s squad under Hodges and his former coach says it is that work ethic and maturity that will take him to the very top in the game.
"You never know quite what to expect of them in their first year in; it's one thing to be good at schoolboy level but it's quite a step up to be good in the 20s and I thought he was outstanding," Hodges said.
"Most young fellas are fairly flighty and emotional but he's a very reserved, very mature fella. He takes in everything that is going on around him and then assesses it and works out what he needs to do and he plays footy the same way.
"I've got an enormous amount of respect for Gehamat. He's a very impressive player."