Newcastle Knights teenager Sione Mata’utia is set to break Israel Folau’s record as the youngest Australian to play a rugby league Test.
Teenage sensation Sione Mata’utia is in line to become the youngest Test player in Australian rugby league history after being named in Tim Sheens’ exciting new-age Four Nations squad.
With just seven NRL games under his belt after debuting for Newcastle in July, Mata’utia is already the least experienced player in more than half a century to earn a Kangaroos call-up.
Among 10 rookies named in coach Sheens’ 24-man squad on Tuesday, the gifted outside back clinched his selection with an eye-catching display in the Prime Minister’s XIII’s 34-16 victory over Papua New Guinea at Kokopo on Sunday.
While Sheens has already all but ruled out starting Mata’utia in Australia’s opener against New Zealand in Brisbane on October 25, last year’s Australian schoolboys’ captain will set a century-old record if he earns his first cap at any stage of the month-long tournament.
Israel Folau holds the record as the Kangaroos’ youngest debutant after starring at 18 years and 194 days old against the Kiwis in Wellington in 2007.
Mata’utia, though, was only 18 years and 110 days old at the time of his selection in the squad and guaranteed the record should he crown his spectacular rookie season with a promotion to the Test side.
“It’s a big deal,” said Australian Rugby League Commission chief John Grant after announcing the squad in Sydney.
Folau, now a dual international and the ARU’s hottest property, was already the NRL’s newcomer of the year and a grand final winner with the Melbourne Storm when he received his Kangaroos call-up.
Mata’utia, the subject of a tug-of-war for his services between Newcastle and Canterbury when he contract with the Knights ends in 2015, has no such credentials.
Only Jim Lisle back in 1962 has experienced a faster elevation to the Test side after playing just five games for South Sydney before earning the call-up.
If and when Mata’utia secures his maiden cap during the Four Nations, he will join St George’s rugby league Immortal Reg Gasnier in playing for Australia after only seven club games.
“He’s a kid of the future, to be honest. Quite a few people agree with me,” Sheens said after citing Mata’utia’s versatility and “obvious talent” as the chief reasons for his selection.
With a raft of big-name players unavailable for selection, including Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston and Paul Gallen, Sheens ushered in generation next on Tuesday.
South Sydney grand final heroes Alex Johnston and Dylan Walker were other rookies named.
The other debutants are Canterbury forwards David Klemmer and Josh Jackson, Penrith winger Josh Mansour, Sydney Roosters’ State of Origin pair Daniel Tupou and Aiden Guerra, Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt and Wests Tigers prop Aaron Woods, who has also played Origin.
AUSTRALIA’S FIVE YOUNGEST RUGBY LEAGUE TEST PLAYERS
Israel Folau – 18 years and 194 days v New Zealand, 2007
Charles “Chook” Fraser – 18 years and 301 days v England, 1911
Kerry Boustead – 18 years and 316 days v New Zealand, 1978
Dugald McGregor – 19 years and 5 days v New Zealand, 1909
Keith Middleton – 19 years and 138 days v Great Britain, 1950
LEAST EXPERIENCED TEST PLAYERS
Jim Lisle – played five games for South Sydney before being called up in 1962
Reg Gasnier – played seven games for St George in 1959 before being called up
*Sione Mata’utia – played seven games for Newcastle in 2014 before being named in Australia’s 24-man Four Nations squad on Tuesday
*At 18 years and 110 days old, Sione Mata’utia is guaranteed to be younger than Folau was when he debuted for Australia if he earns his first Test cap during the Four Nations tournament.
Courtesy of David Middleton from League Information Services