At times, there had been too much talent to fit into the first grade side.
Take Thurston for instance, JT rarely got a full-time shot in his preferred halfback or pivot position – as Braith Anasta was usually first choice in number 6 and Brent Sherwin was the halfback during that period also.
It eventually forced JT to look elsewhere, and while he’s yet to take the Cowboys all the way to NRL Premiership success – he has had personal success on all representative levels, with many suggesting he is in the Top 3 players in the game at present.
But what about try scoring whiz-kid Ben Barba?
The Bulldogs unearthed the youngster from McKay and in his first year of Toyota Cup – he left everyone else for dead, scoring 29 tries and 69 goals from only 17 appearances. Barba was immediately hailed as the next JT – and would soon be a regular first grader.
But the transition wasn’t an easy one for Barba or the Bulldogs.
As then coach Steve Folkes tried to bring Ben Barba into the top grade, it was a period when the Bulldogs were literally going backwards. Their forwards were getting smashed, they lacked direction and any form of cohesion.
Barba was simply coming in at the wrong time and was unable to really show what he could do behind a beaten pack.
The talented little halfback would be forced to wait even longer though, as the cleanout started at Belmore – new coach and a host of new players including NSW Origin and Australian halfback Brett Kimmorley would set Barba back even further.
Interestingly, while Noddy might be ahead of Barba at no.7 – the veteran halfback is one of Ben Barba’s biggest fans. And the halfbacks are apparently spending plenty of time together not only at training but apparently off the field too.
Noddy will more than often drive Barba to training and is trying to provide the young no.7 with all the tips from his toolkit from the past decade.
It seems like Barba certainly has what it takes and if you ask anyone at Belmore, they all believe he is not only the next JT – but could possibly be even better.
If this kid can remain patient, continue to build up his smaller frame and continue to learn from the likes of Brett Kimmorley – the sky is the limit.
So at a time when Jonathan Thurston continues to ponder leaving the NRL, the next rookie will be ready to step up into the top grade and continue the NRL’s ability to unearth, develop and unleash top quality stars across the board.