Fittler’s challenge to rising NRL star
NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler has delivered a simple message to hulking Blues hopeful Payne Haas: "Don't let the old blokes stand over you."
Despite having only played three NRL games, Haas, 19, is looming as one the most exciting storylines of next year thanks to his 117kg frame, natural athleticism and promise, which have resulted in him being listed as an Emerging Blue.
Outstanding on debut for the Brisbane Broncos in round eight this year, Haas churned through 86m and 13 tackles in his 21 minutes against South Sydney, prompting Channel 9's Phil Gould to say: "You're seeing the birth of a superstar."
However, the following week against Canterbury at Suncorp Stadium, the 194cm wrecking ball was floored in a crunching tackle by Bulldogs enforcer and incumbent Blues tough Dave Klemmer.
The hit was shuddering enough to leave the teenager concussed and with an ankle injury.
Fittler said it would now be up to the young Bronco, who was born in Newcastle, to ready himself for similar challenges next year and prove he is among the competition's toughest nuts.
"Payne Haas is an incredible talent," Fittler said.
"He showed plenty of potential this season … but then Dave Klemmer went and knocked him out.
"That was a case of an old-timer standing over him, getting the better of him.
"So next year for Payne, it's now about not letting an older bloke stand over him. It's about him getting out there and being the No. 1 front-rower."
While Fittler has no shortage of Origin bookends - think Klemmer, Paul Vaughan, Aaron Woods, Jordan McLean, Matthew Lodge and Reagan Campbell-Gillard - he insisted the "freakish" Haas was a future representative player.
Having already worked with Haas for years in the NSW Pathways system, Fittler also has no doubt the young Bronco can be an NRL force in what will still effectively be his rookie season.
"Because you're talking about an unbelievable athlete who is going to be part of a really good, young team up there in Brisbane," Fittler said.
"I can still remember the first time I saw Payne, watching him do some testing we were conducting for the NSW Pathways.
"He was only 15 but already he was incredible.
"Big, strong and better than everyone else - some of whom were six years older than him.
"And Payne is still doing it now. He's a freak."
While Origin may still seem a long way off for Haas, Fittler's decision to include 11 new faces for the opening game this year - and the selection of Cronulla's Matt Prior for game two - ensured every invited member of his Emerging Blues squad presented for training last Thursday.
"I think they all understand there is real opportunity here," Fittler said.
"Form, it comes and goes. So what we need are 20 players who are primed and ready."