RLW’s 2016 ALL-ROOKIE TEAM
Another season, another incredible crop of debutants – and a warning from a legend
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