On the weekend two things became abundantly clear. Gerard Sutton isn’t a fan of you swearing in his vicinity. And secondly, two young guns are setting the competition alight to the point where they are becoming undeniable stars.

Selwyn Cobbo and Jeremiah Nanai represent both the present and the future of Queensland rugby league. Simply, their form is too good to not warrant a call up to Billy Slater’s Maroons side. 

The two Queensland bolters

As we continue to hurtle closer and closer towards the State of Origin series opener, selection talk inevitably reaches a crescendo. 

Countless different line-ups are penciled in by fans and critics alike, but the only one that really matters will be Slater’s.

When the new coach announces his squad next week, don’t be surprised if the names of the two teenage rookies are read out.

Nanai is the backrow try-scoring freak who has burst onto the scene for the Cowboys, while Cobbo is an excitement machine who seems to live and breathe tackle busts and linebreaks.

Particularly during the past month or so, their form has sky-rocketed them into the conversation for Origin. They now loom as two potential pillars for an exciting Queensland side which is rapidly emerging.

During Wide World of Sports’ Billy’s Breakdown segment, Slater confirmed he was keeping a close eye on the two 19-year-old prospects and wouldn’t be afraid to pick them due to lack of experience.

They boast just 33 NRL games between them.

Yet in that time, they have repeatedly shown they have the talent and skills necessary to thrive in the toughest arena.  

Cobbo on the rise

Only fellow Queensland young gun Xavier Coates, Taylan May and his team-mate Corey Oates have scored more tries from the wing than Cobbo.

However, besides his ability to score points it’s his work-rate that will also be appealing to Slater.

According to Fox Sports Lab, he has taken possession of the ball 209 times and produced 123 runs for 1,371 metres.

Only Reuben Garrick and Jordan Rapana – who have moonlighted as fullbacks at various stages – along with Daniel Tupou and Oates have had more possessions on the wing, while Cobbo sits in the top five for yardage made out of all wingers.  

His destructive running is his greatest asset, which was highlighted against Newcastle Knights on Thursday night. The way he repeatedly got his team out of trouble with strong carries out of corners is purpose built for Origin.

Compared to the rest of the wingers in the competition, Cobbo’s ability to bust tackles and produce linebreaks is already elite.  

Only the rampaging Greg Marzhew (58) and Joey Manu (52) have made more tackle busts than Cobbo (48) across the first few months of the season.

Meanwhile, only Ronaldo Mulitalo (17) and Alex Johnston (14) have broken through defensive lines more than Cobbo (11).

Coupled with the kind of speed that left Johnston trailing in his wake a few weeks ago, Cobbo is the very definition of pace and power.

Slater’s cause for concern

Defensively, Nanai will be a worry.

He has the second-most missed tackles for a backrower, with 44. Only Liam Martin tops this with 45.

The two of them are streets ahead of the other second rowers who have also been suspect in defence at times. Kurt Capewell, Viliame Kikau and Tevita Pangai Junior have each missed 20-odd tackles.

Yet while Martin – the NSW firebrand – often flies out of the line in an attempt to exert pressure and energise his side, Nanai is missing his while stationed firmly within the defensive setup.

His numbers show that he is really a more attack-minded player.

He makes plenty of tackles (276) which ranks him alongside the likes of Keaon Koloamatangi (281) and Jordan Riki (285), but he is comfortably below the elite tacklers in his position.

He still has plenty of work to do to match the feats of Isaiah Papali’i (370), Angus Crichton (336) and Jai Arrow (318).

Nanai’s discipline will also be a concern for Slater. He is the second-most penalised player in the NRL, only behind serial pest Jarome Luai.

STAT WATCH: Jarome Luai (13), Jeremiah Nanai (11), Corey Waddell (10) have conceded the most penalties in the comp. 

Meanwhile, Cobbo’s issues with ball security were well-documented at the start of the season.

He has made more errors (18) than any other player in the centres or on the wing.

This points to him perhaps chancing his arm a bit too much with unnecessary passes and lapses in concentration that are normal for a player breaking into first-grade.

Both Nanai and Cobbo will have to address these individual issues quickly though if they want to forge long and successful representative careers.

Nanai staking his claim

This year, it’s a sight that has become all too familiar. The perplexed faces of opposition centres and backrowers staring at each other, after Nanai has stormed through to claim the ball and leave them grasping at thin air.

Chad Townsend kick. Jeremiah Nanai try.

The young backrower is making it his trademark, in the same way Luke O’Donnell did with the spear tackle and Kane Evans did with unnecessary offloads.

The Cowboys star has 10 tries already this year and poses a constant threat on the edge. With his aerial ability, he allows Slater to construct a game plan that utilises this talent.

It is a genuine point of difference and one thing that separates him from the other backrowers in Queensland’s stable.

Along with Nanai’s strong carries (851m) – which groups him in the same bracket as Martin (858m) – and ability to offload, the North Queensland player profiles as an x-factor perfect for introducing off the bench in Origin. 

STAT WATCH: The only backrowers to spend more time on the field than Jeremiah Nanai (855 minutes) are Jake Trbojevic (875 minutes) and Felise Kaufusi(873 minutes).

He is a new breed of tall, athletic forward who can eventually replace a stalwart like Kaufusi in Queensland’s backrow for years to come.

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