Monday Halfback: Origins of a superstar

There's nothing like young athletes announcing themselves to the sporting world with a breakout performance that gets everyone talking.

I'll never forget the first time I took notice of Sam Burgess. The young English forward had been signed by South Sydney but was yet to step foot on a plane bound for Australia and the NRL. 

To most Australian fans, that was the extent of our knowledge. He was a young English player that had some sort of connection with Russell Crowe and South Sydney. As you do.

While he had played 88 games for Bradford and scored a barnstorming try through Australia's defence in the group stage of the 2009 Four Nations, it was a try in the Final on a cold night in Leeds that Burgess truly arrived on the world stage. 

The young tyro got the ball 45 metres out from the Kangaroos' line and went bang off his left foot, leaving old bull Petero Civoniceva clutching at thin air in the brisk English night. It wasn't even close. The veteran forward just had no answer for the pace and footwork of the young upstart. 

Burgess was through, accelerated towards fullback Billy Slater and stepped off his left foot again, turning Slater inside-out and completely off his feet! Burgess slid over for the opening try of the Four Nations Final, straight through the heart of the Australian defence to score under the posts untouched. 

The crowd in that moment was electric. For those at the ground, or watching in the early hours back home, it was a moment etched in time.

The hype was real. 

In the second half, trailing by four points, Burgess put an exclamation on a performance that had the crowd rocking and the Australians rattled. 

The 20-year-old ran an outside-in line off Gareth Ellis's shoulder and sliced straight through the green and gold defence to score under the posts. England were in front and daring to believe the impossible. 

While the Kangaroos rallied to clinically dispose of England in the final 20 minutes, there could be no denying the emergence of a rugby league superstar that night in Leeds. 

Five years later, that young forward famously led South Sydney to a drought-breaking premiership, broken jaw and all to claim the prestigious Clive Churchill Medal. It's a moment I'll never forget experiencing live.

While it wasn't in a Four Nations final, two young players emerged at the weekend during the much maligned Origin bye-week schedule. 

Coincidentally, Angus Crichton's breakout performance was due – in part – to Burgess being ruled out of South Sydney's clash with the Titans. 

Before Friday night, Crichton already had somewhat of a cult following among fans and NRL Fantasy players for his high work-rate and ability to break tackles and find his way to the tryline. 

He may not have stolen the headlines that Coen Hess was generating up north, but Crichton has been every bit as good as the Cowboys colossus this season.

And on Friday night, in an Origin bye week, Crichton officially announced himself to the rugby league world. 

It wasn't just the fact he scored three tries, it was the manner in which he scored them. His final try with three minutes to go had it all; speed, footwork, a brutal fend, the power to shrug off defenders and an innate ability to find the try line. 

The two players who he beat were no slouches, he turned former Queensland forward Chris McQueen inside out, fended off Ryan James, before shrugging out of another McQueen attempt at tackle. He then broke two more tackles for good measure to crash over the line.

It was the sort of run you expect in the first minute of a game, not the final three. Crichton left Titans players sprawled all across the ANZ Stadium turf in his 40 metre effort. 

Throw in 200 running metres, four line breaks, 12 tackle breaks and you have an amazing 80-minute performance, but in truth, it's a performance he has been building to all season.

Crichton's stats made him the highest scoring player in NRL Fantasy history, such was his dominance in an 80-minute performance of the highest quality. 

And as for the quality of the human being? He gave away his match boots to two kids in the crowd after the game. 

Is he the next big thing? Who knows, but to those kids, he is already a superstar.


Storm Wars – attack of the Clones

And then there was Brodie Croft. 

What an unbelievable talent this young man looks to be. 

The 19-year-old had played just one NRL game before leading the Storm to an epic golden point victory over the Cowboys… and that was 364 days ago! 

Showing composure beyond his age and experience in extra-time, Croft decided against a match winning field-goal attempt when he felt the defence was too quick to shut him down. Instead of rushing an attempt – like most players would have – he coolly placed the ball in the in-goal and got the perfect weight, forcing a repeat set. 

The comparisons are unavoidable, it was Cooper Cronk-like. 

In the next set, Croft stepped up and nailed the most perfect of field goals from 30 metres out to win the contest for his team. His mentor couldn't have struck it any better. 


The footage of Croft hugging both his parents immediately afterwards in the AAMI Park tunnel spoke volumes of what it meant to him and his family. 

While Croft will have to wait in the wings, it appears the Storm production line, or 'Stormbots' as they have been labelled, knows no end. 

Alongside Croft was halfback Ryley Jacks, who has performed consistently all season, five-eighth-cum-fullback Cameron Munster looks one of the best young talents in the game and already announced himself as a star in his own right, and young hooker Brandon Smith – who looks almost identical to his namesake and future immortal Cam Smith. 

While the Storm have long been pigeonholed as just 'The Big Three', there is no questioning their ability to regenerate, reinvent and reinvigorate. The Big Three moniker often overshadows or overlooks the amazing organisation that continues to improve football players.

While there has never and will never be another Cooper Cronk, Cam Smith or Billy Slater, the youngsters who were on show for Melbourne should ensure the club has a bright future. 

It doesn't look like the Storm will need to go through a rebuilding phase.


Paul Green's act of respect and humility 

It was a small act, but it revealed a lot.  

During the coverage of the Cowboys clash with the Storm, footage emerged from the dressing room of a lone figure - coach Paul Green - tidying up, picking up chairs and neatly packing them away with not another person in site. 

The fact his arm was in a sling made no difference. 

It was such a simple act, yet spoke volumes of the culture at the Cowboys. 

It is something the All Blacks have famously used in the past to ensure their players and coaching staff remain humble. 

Old boxers used to clean their own training environments as an act of discipline and respect. Archie Moore used to make Muhammed Ali (then Cassius Clay) do the same thing.