What failed to floor the Gold Training under-20s only made them stronger in 2016.
Coach Ben Woolf’s young men are expected to fly next year after injuries played a damaging role in the side’s 13th-place finish this season.
That the Holden Cup side was still a finals prospect with three rounds remaining was a credit to both the team’s fighting qualities and Woolf’s ability to devise new ways to fill 17 jerseys each week.
The under-20s started the year full of confidence after six players spent the pre-season training with the NRL squad.
But Morgan Boyle, Jed Cartwright, Brian Kelly, Greg Leleisiuao, Shane Wright and Kurt Bernard were unable to share their collective experience with their younger teammates due to an assortment of injuries.
Halfback Josh Fauid was also struck down during a difficult campaign which started so promisingly for Woolf.
“There wasn’t a game when we had all six of those (NRL squad) players on the field together,” the coach lamented.
“Having Josh Fauid go down wasn’t ideal either. We were three wins from four games at that point.”
Clichés become so for a very good reason, and the players chosen to step up grasped their opportunities.
Perth-raised Josh Rogers emerged from local club football, impressed in an open trial and held down the five-eighth spot for most of the season.
And rookie AJ Brimson was one of the competition’s best finds.
As a 18-year-old half, he was expecting to bide his time behind the team’s older playmakers and grab whatever chances he could.
But with Woolf searching for a passing fullback, and a weary Brian Kelly backing up from NSW under-20s commitments, Brimson was given a shot in the No. 1 jumper.
“He (Brimson) did a really good job,” Woolf said.
“It’s our plan to still develop him as a half but with all the injuries we just picked our best 17 and found spots for them.”
A handful of senior players, including Kelly, Cartwright, Boyle and Bernard, will naturally progress to the full-time squad next year.
Woolf tipped Brimson and front-rower Max King as likely NRL players but not before they add some size to their young frames.
Brimson could play another two seasons in the under-20s while 19-year-old King, at 190cm and 103kg, still has some physical development ahead of him.
King (pictured) averaged 120m, 32 tackles and more than two offloads per game to be the standout performer.
“He (King) played 80 minutes for us on a number of occasions and was definitely our best player,” Woolf said.
“It’s hard for guys to step up to that (NRL) level but I think he’ll do it at some point. It all depends on how well he develops physically.”
Our Gold Training under-20s season:
Played: 24. Won: 9. Lost: 15. Finished: 13th
Players used: 40
Most games: Max King 24, Nathan Watts 24, Simione Fatafehi 24, Phillip Sami 24, Jordan Scott 22, Josh Rogers 21.
Most points: Tyronne Roberts-Davis 110 (5 tries, 45 goals in 15 matches)
Most tries: Josh Ralph 13 tries (12 matches), Brian Kelly 11 (15 matches), Sami 11 (24 matches)
Most minutes: Sami (1920), Max King (1435).
Most line breaks: Kelly 11, Sami 11.
Most average metres: Greg Leleisiuao 157.
Most average tackles: King 32
Most try assists: Rogers 17