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NRL Legends Put Rising Talent On A Pedestal To Early
Rugby League has a wealth of former players working in the media. NRL fans don't have to look far for expert opinions on everything involving the sport on and off the field. One of the ex-player's that is never short of an opinion is Phil 'Gus' Gould. Gus is a former player for club's Newtown, Canterbury and Souths. He is the current Chief of Operations at Penrith. He has been a successful premiership winning coach at Penrith, Canterbury and is New South Wales' best performing head coach. Phil also is one of Channel Nine's commentary team but nowadays looks like he would rather be at home such is his enthusiasm levels.
Gus just recently shared his opinion of up and coming Wests Tigers' half Luke Brooks. He expressed that if Brooks doesn't start taking his NRL career more "seriously" and start putting in some great performances he will become another star who failed to fulfill his potential. This raises the question, Are our Rugby League legends putting young up and coming stars on a pedestal to early?. Could it be that these ex-players have just seen potential in Luke that isn't really there?.
The 'Pedestal Syndrome' seems to be more prevelant in New South Wales than Queensland. Could this be one of the reasons The Maroons have dominated the last ten years in State Of Origin?. The Blues' selectors continuously picking "The Next Big Thing", Especially in the halves and then realising they weren't in fact the greatest thing since sliced bread. By the time they realise it's already to late and Queensland win another series.
Some of the most recent examples of this include the seriously depleted Melbourne Storm defeating The Cowboys 23-22 in Round 15. The Storm had been ripped apart due to Origin and had a very young squad. Kicking the winning field goal was young gun Brodie Croft. Before the field goal even went through the posts Fox League Commentator Andrew Voss was screaming "A Star is Born!!!" through the television. In the days to follow many Rugby League "experts" referred to Brodie as the splitting image of Cooper Cronk in looks and playing habits. This is a player that has played 3 NRL games in 12 months.
Sydney Rooster's back Connor Watson is due for a new contract and his manager is apparently shopping him around for $600,000 a year. This is someone that has played 29 first grade games. Surely he is worth alot less until he gets some games under his belt, proves his worth over time and shows he can be consistent.
Over the last ten years the New South Wales Blues halves selections have become a farce. The combinations have been different every year except for this year's combination of Mitchell Pierce at half-back and James Maloney at five eight. This pair was used in 2013.
Most often the case has been rushing in a young guy with potential that isn't ready for the toughness of Origin football and when they fail to deliver their representative career is over before it begins. On the other hand there is Mitchell Pearce who has had multiple opportunities over the years and if the Blues fail this year it can safely be said he will be the most unsuccessful Blues halfback of all time.
On multiple occasions in the past we have seen youthful players that show huge potential placed on a pedestal to early which can be harmful for their career. Here are some of the more memorable ones.
As mentioned earlier Mitchell Pearce was given multiple representative opportunities early in his career which can be said were not as successful has hoped. Mitchell is the son of former Balmain Tigers captain Wayne Pearce. He debuted for the Sydney Roosters in 2007 and was selected to play in the representative fixture City v Country in 2008. There was talk of him representing the Blues as early as 2009 but he made his debut in 2010.
He has played in 5 series (2017 is his sixth) without a win. At NRL level Mitchell has never had a problem and has always been above average and has excelled in the 2017 season. Mitch is in the running for the Dally M medal this year and deservedly so. He has kicked the winning field goal twice for the Roosters this year in the last month alone. One must feel though that this year if he doesn't have a main role in the Blues winning the series he was indeed placed on a pedestal to early.
The eighth immortal in Rugby League Andrew Johns passed the torch to his replacement after retirement Jarrod Mullen in a big way. The former Newcastle Knights halfback not only put big wraps on Mullen he helped him get his big break with Newcastle. Johns hand picked Mullen to be his replacement and the Knights with then coach Michael Hagan started grooming him for the number 7 role.
The plan was to give Johns and Mullens a year together in the side to give Jarrod some valuable tips and experience playing beside the veteran. However this wasn't to be with Andrew retiring due to a kneck injury. With John's endorsement Mullens was selected for the New South Wales Blues after just 31 first grade games. He was dropped after just one game.
Jarrod's career looks to be over after testing positive to the Drostanolone steroid in early 2017 and being suspended for 4 years. This will make him 34 when the suspension finishes and it is unlikely any NRL clubs will come knocking on his door in 2021. So Jarrod joins the list of players that were placed on a pedestal to early and has proved he shouldn't have been anyway.
Scott Hill was no slouch in Rugby League and by all means was the complete opposite. He had a great career playing for Canterbury, Melbourne and defunct Hunter Mariners. Scott played representative football for Australia, New South Wales and Country. He also played for the Harlequins in the European Super League.
One thing he was not though was the 'next' Terry Lamb. He was recruited by the Canterbury Bulldogs to be the replacement for their favourite son Terry Lamb. When the club heard of Lamb's intended retirement Hill was to be his replacement at five-eight but 'little' Terry had some 'BIG' shoes to fill. Scott only played one year for the dogs before Terry retired and he did go on to have an above average career. But to put him on that pedestal of the "Next Terry Lamb" is a pedestal to high for most.
Dubbed "The next Freddy Fitler", Braith Anasta had the pressure placed upon him early. The start of his NRL career was controversial with Braith making his debut for the Bulldogs in the year 2000. He is the nephew of former Rabbitoh George Piggins. George wanted Braith to play for the Rabbits when they were re-admitted into the NRL competition in 2002 but Anasta chose to stay with the Dogs.
In an even stranger move in 2005 Braith chose to sign with South Sydney's arch rivals the Sydney Roosters. Souths were in the running to secure Braith at that stage as well so it seems that Anasta had no love for Souths at all.
Braith did go on to have an amazing career. He played in the 2004 Grand Final win by Canterbury. He also represented Australia, New South Wales and City. But if you include Brad 'Freddy' Fittler and Anasta in the same sentence, Fittler clearly stands head and shoulders above Braith.
Kurt Gidley was another guy talked highly of by Andrew Johns. A player able to play many positions and was great at times, he was unfortunately though one of NSW Blues' senior players in Queensland's decade of dominance. Kurt was continously selected in an under performing Blues team and many times as captain over the 2007-2011 period.
The writing was on the wall when in 2010 Kurt was put on the bench for the Blues. In a baffling decision Gidley even kept his captaincy while playing off the bench in game 2.
So what former Legends and Players of the NRL (especially New South Wales) need to remember when they place a young up and coming player on a pedestal to early is that the consequences can be huge. It could even mean your state side will lose origin 8 years in a row.