‘A tight bunch of mates.’
That’s how Todd Payten describes the Wests Tigers Under 20s side he coached to a premiership in 2012, his maiden year as a coach.
Eighteen months down the track, eight players from that tight-knit group of 17 have now made it through to the NRL - with potentially more to come.
“To have that many of the guys make their debut is a huge buzz for me,” Payten said. “I knew at certain stages throughout 2012 that we had a number of first graders.
“I think there are still another two or three (NRL players) out of that side to come,” he said. “That’s a high number and it’s great for the Wests Tigers because we are a development Club.”
The most recent debutant is fullback Kurtis Rowe, who just two weeks ago played in the 16-4 victory over North Queensland at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
While his top grade debut may have ended earlier than he would have liked after copping a knee to the hip, Rowe is yet another talented product from the Under 20s side that convincingly defeated Canberra 46-6 in the Grand Final.
The Keebra Park product was a standout performer during his two seasons of Holden Cup, scoring two tries in the demolition of the Raiders and a total of 38 tries in 45 games.
“Kurtis was really good for us in the 2012 finals series,” Payten said. “‘K’ came down from Queensland through the Keebra Park system and had played Australian Schoolboys.”
“He’s blessed with terrific speed, his reading of the game is really good as well as his support play – that is why he crossed the line so many times.”
However it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Rowe during his time in the Holden Cup, as Payten recalls dropping the speedy fullback at one stage.
“In those two years I coached him, Kurtis probably had a two or three week period out of the side but fought his way back in,” Payten said. “He was always our best fullback but I just thought his form at the time didn’t warrant him in the side at one point.
“Kurtis really knuckled down and didn’t complain, he just put his head down and got his confidence back - he came home strong towards the end of both years.”
When you look back at that side, there a many familiar names for Wests Tigers fans – a team that oozed with talent and continues to provide NRL Coach Mick Potter with a depth of quality players to select from.
Young guns David Nofoaluma and Sitaleki Akauola took the field in coincidentally the same jersey numbers they are now wearing in the NRL.
Playing in the second row was Joel Luani, who has now earned a recall to the top grade at hooker - replacing injured skipper Robbie Farah.
Powerful forward Sauaso Sue packed down in the front row and has since played a total of 21 NRL matches, including five games this year before suffering an ankle injury.
Marika Koroibete (16 NRL games) and Nathan Brown (1 NRL game), who are currently playing Wests Tigers NSW Cup, also featured in the premiership victory.
Halfback Jacob Miller captained the Wests Tigers NYC side and played nine NRL games before transferring to Super League Club, Hull FC mid-year in 2013.
With Kyle Lovett, Asipeli Fine and Inno Inosesio all playing well in NSW Cup, it may not be long before more NRL debutants come from the 2012 NYC Grand Finalists.
“There is a good bond between the guys, they are best mates,” Payten said. “Training together here and they are hanging out together after training - I think that is a good thing for the fabric of our Club.”
WESTS TIGERS 46 (K Rowe 2 M Koroibete 2 M Mulcahy 2 D Nofoaluma M Fotuaika tries J Miller 7 goals) defeated CANBERRA 6 (M Cornish try A Milford goal) at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, September 30, 2012.
Wests Tigers Under 20s - 2012 GF:
1 Kurtis Rowe
2 David Nofoaluma
3 Brodie Monroe
4 Asipeli Fine
5 Marika Koroibete
6 Matt Mulcahy
7 Jacob Miller (c)
8 Sauaso Sue
9 Ben Saunders
10 Mosese Fotuaika
11 Joel Luani
12 Kyle Lovett
13 Inno Inosesio
14 Soni Paasi
15 Nathan Brown
16 Brenden Santi
17 Sitaleki Akauola