RLW’s 2016 ALL-ROOKIE TEAM

An­other sea­son, an­other in­cred­i­ble crop of debu­tants – and a warn­ing from a leg­end

Rugby League Week - - News - BY TONY ADAMS

LEAGUE LEG­END BRETT KENNY is amazed at the way the game keeps churn­ing out bril­liant rook­ies – but fears the days of stun­ning new tal­ent may be dry­ing up. Par­ra­matta’s rookie of the year way back in 1980, Kenny has looked over

RLW’s All-Rookie Team and de­clared it as fine a crop of new faces as he can re­mem­ber.

But at the same time, Kenny is wor­ried the feast may soon be­come a famine.

“There are some great kids in your team who’ve done sen­sa­tional things this year – the likes of La­trell Mitchell, Su­liasi Vu­ni­valu, Nathan Cleary, Be­van French and James Fisher-Har­ris,” Kenny says.

“But I do a lot of guest-speak­ing gigs in the coun­try and bush footy is dy­ing.

“So many of these good young kids come from the bush, but the num­bers are dwin­dling year by year.

“I ask my­self, ‘How much longer are we go­ing to keep find­ing such great tal­ent?’

“Maybe it will dry up soon. I hope not, be­cause it’s great for the game to see these fresh faces come in and shine.”

Kenny be­lieves the rookie’s lot in 2016 is far eas­ier than when he de­buted more than three decades ago.

“Kids these days don’t re­alise how good they’ve got it be­cause they’re pretty well pro­tected by the rules and the ref­er­ees,” he says.

“Look at Cleary – he’s come in and been able to dom­i­nate games from day one. He’s just 18 – a su­perb tal­ent – but ri­vals can’t test him the way we were tested.

“Back in the 1980s, he would’ve had his head knocked off a few times and his life would have been a lot tougher.

“I started in first grade as a skinny 19-year-old and I used to get belted ev­ery week . . . The rules al­lowed play­ers to smash you back then and the old hard heads took it upon them­selves to ‘wel­come’ you to first grade with a stiff arm or some knees in the back.

“Plenty of great young play­ers got smashed out of the game and never re­alised their po­ten­tial. You had to have eyes in the back of your head.

“If you made it, then they re­spected you. If you didn’t, bad luck. That’s just the way it was for a long time.”

But re­gard­less of that, Kenny is in awe of the men­tal tough­ness of some of the cur­rent crop.

“You look at a kid like La­trell Mitchell, he was in a Roost­ers team that only won a hand­ful of games but he kept turn­ing up ev­ery week and pro­duc­ing the goods,” Kenny says.

“I re­mem­ber late in my ca­reer at Par­ra­matta, we strug­gled to win games and I found it re­ally hard to deal with – and I was an in­ter­na­tional foot­baller.

“So guys like him, and Cody Walker at Souths and Daniel Saifiti at the Knights, they de­serve spe­cial praise for com­ing in and hold­ing their own when their teams are do­ing it tough. It’s a very dif­fer­ent story to com­ing into a cham­pion team that’s win­ning games and re­ally tests your met­tle.

“The class of 2016 just seems so con­fi­dent. They’re fear­less and look­ing at them, the fu­ture of the game is in great hands.”

‘So many good kids are from the bush, but the num­bers are dwin­dling’ Brett Kenny

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