Waqa Blake: From the West to the wild West and Origin on the horizon
Penrith centre Waqa Blake has been on a long journey since his days pulling on the boots for the Perth Pirates in the SG Ball but he’s not done yet.
“That kid is the next Greg Inglis. I’m very, very confident when I say I’ve just seen the next GI!”
I’ve been blessed over the years to have watched hundreds of talented young footballers climb their way through the Penrith District Junior Rugby League and force their way closer and closer to an elusive first grade berth.
Some have reminded me of quality NRL players, others made me feel like I was watching a game-defining talent with no comparison. Some of the best I saw never made it beyond the NYC or SG Ball or even Harold Matts, some suffered career-ending injuries, others found new loves in life and drifted away from the game. Others still found that their talent didn’t develop to the level of their peers and they fell back in the pack.
In the rarer category are the young talents that come through and make the grade, the ones that not only play first grade footy at Penrith or around the league but make their mark on the greatest game of all.
The day I knew I’d seen a star
When I texted a friend to tell him I’d walked away from a 2013 NYC game I was confident the talent that had been laid bare before me was set for more than just bigger and better but for stardom.
Big, strong, fast, Waqa Blake reminded me in so many ways of the great Greg Inglis and it took no time at all for me to see exactly where this kid was going. In fairness, he’s not even there yet. The promised land for talent like Waqa Blake isn’t first grade footy, it isn’t a starting berth week to week in a top four contender, it’s making a mark on the toughest arenas our game boasts.
After his two-try performance against the Parramatta Eels on a hot Sunday afternoon at Panthers Stadium, the talk of Waqa Blake being considered as an ‘Origin bolter’ for the New South Wales Blues starting creeping through.
With incumbent centres Jarryd Hayne and Josh Dugan both under intense pressure and scrutiny at new clubs and few other potential selections starting the season in as fine a form as Blake, there’s no reason why Brad Fittler’s blue revolution couldn’t use Waqa Blake as a handy building block.
With the dominance of the Maroons over the last decade, the Blues are in dire need of a fresh approach to tackling their northern counterparts and the sort of size, speed and exuberance a brash young backline star like Blake offers is something that you can see genuinely appealing to the likes of Fittler who had a touch of the same cheek in his playing days.
The framework for success
For his part, Greg Inglis has put together the sort of stellar career that kids dream of when throwing around the Steeden in the backyard with mates.
A Clive Churchill Medal winner in 2007, Inglis has a raft of individual awards including the 2009 Golden Boot and a Provan Summons Medal in 2013 as well as Grand Final success, State of Origin success and success with the Australian national team.
There’s almost no more that a player could hope to achieve in the game and Inglis stands a testament to where skill, determination, and graft can take a player but, beyond that, he stands as the perfect framework for a similarly sizeable and devastating centre like Waqa Blake.
Penrith have honed and developed Blake since his return to Sydney from Perth and his development is as much a deserved recognition of the talent development and production pathways at the club as it is his own determination and natural ability.
It may not be until the very end of his career that we fully understand just how good Waqa Blake was at the game, but between now and then there’s an inevitable barrage of achievements and highlights to enjoy and, if things continue on the same path, it’ll be entrenched Blues fans enjoying them as much as those at the foot of the mountains.
Could Waqa Blake reach the same sort of heights as a star like Greg Inglis? Let us know in the comments below.