Half as many reasons for Gus to be excited

Nathan Cleary in action for the Panthers.
Nathan Cleary in action for the Panthers.

SUCH was the dearth in talent coming through the grades a few years ago that Channel Nine commentator and respected judge Phil Gould suggested the NRL establish an academy for emerging halfbacks.

His call came during a TV telecast, and sticks clearly in my mind because I absolutely agreed with him. At the time Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Daly Cherry-Evans, Mitchell Pearce and Benji Marshall were dominating in the No.7 jersey but the up-and-comers were as scarce as hen's teeth.

Gus is a wily old critter but I doubt even he had enough pull at NRL headquarters at the time to have the academy established.

In fact I'm sure nothing came of his suggestion - not at an official level, anyway.

But some with influence were evidently listening because most NRL clubs now have an outstanding half or five-eighth, or at least one on the horizon.

And two of them - Ash Taylor and Nathan Cleary - are among the leading contenders for Dally M Rookie of Year honours.

Both halfbacks are exceptional talents and despite this being their first season in the top grade, they are handling the pressure with incredible composure.

Without wanting to jinx either of them, they look on track to be the Thurston and Cronk of the next era.

But, as Gus would happily concur, Taylor and Cleary are not the only young halves to emerge and catch the eye in season 2016.

Te Marie Martin appears he will be the long-time halves partner of Cleary at Penrith. Martin made his debut earlier in the season - well before Cleary - and shone. But injury has curtailed his progress since.

Another No.7 currently out of the picture is Titans' rising star Kane Elgey. Absolutely brilliant in his debut season last year, he has missed all of 2016 following a knee reconstruction but is exactly the type of player for which Gould pined a few seasons back.

And while the Knights have had little to celebrate this season, teenage halves Brock Lamb and Jack Cogger have already tasted NRL and also look the goods. So does the Roosters' Connor Watson.

But let's not overlook a crop of established halves currently dominating the competition and still with plenty in their legs and in their astute footballing brains. Moses Mybe, Ben Hunt, Anthony Milford, Luke Brooks, Mitchell Moses, Adam Reynolds and Shaun Johnson continue to bring brilliance to the table almost every weekend.

And one of my favourites, the abundantly-talented but injury-prone Jarrod Mullen at Newcastle, would have been a champion in any era.

Such has been this emergence of playmakers - the essence of what makes our game great - it's enough to make Gus mouth his trademark 'yes, yes, yes'.

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