As we enter the final season of the National Youth Competition, lets take a look at a record that won’t be broken this year. Prior to 2011, you only had to be 16 to play in the then-Toyota Cup, with the age limit later changing to 17. Jason Taumalolo and Boyd Cordner are two current internationals who made their debut at 16 but do they make the Top 5? Let’s take a look at the five youngest NYC debutants.
5. Alex McKinnon (St George Illawarra Dragons)
v Parramatta, Round 25, 2008 (16 years, 207 days)
A talented back rower coming out St Gregory’s Campbelltown, McKinnon debuted for the Dragons at the back end of the 2008 season. McKinnon added 7 more games in 2009 as a 17-year old before becoming an NYC regular for the Red V in 2010. In Round 11 of the 2010 season, McKinnon sat on the bench but didn’t take the field for the Dragons’ NRL game against Canberra after Dan Hunt was injured during warm up. A year later, he would make his NRL debut, starting at centre and scoring twice against the Titans. McKinnon was a first choice representative throughout his NYC career, captaining the Junior Kangaroos and playing for the New South Wales under-20, 18 and 16 sides. His career was tragically cut short after a tackle while playing for Newcastle in 2014.
4. Harry Siejka (Penrith Panthers)
v Wests Tigers, Round 20, 2008 (16 years, 174 days)
Recruited from Bathurst in 2007, Siejka played 5 NYC games for Penrith as a 16-year old in 2008 and famously re-signed with the club on a $75,000 contract. An Australian Schoolboy in 2010, Siejka would make his NRL debut for the Panthers in 2011, playing four games for the club before joining the Warriors in 2013. After not making any first grade appearances, Siejka moved to England, spending time with Wakefield, Featherstone and Bradford. Siejka returned to Australia in 2016, playing in the NSW Cup and recently joined the Burleigh Bears for the 2017 season. The captain of the NSW under-20 side in the inaugural under-20 Origin game, Siejka is the only player in NYC history to play in five seasons (2008-2012).
2. Mosese Pangai (Wests Tigers)
v Sydney Roosters, Round 12, 2008 (16 years, 167 days)
A Concord Burwood junior, Pangai is mainly known for his time with the Cowboys but actually debuted for the Tigers and played 6 games as a 16-year old for them in 2008. His move north in 2009 was where he would gain the most recognition, becoming a regular for the Cowboys over three seasons and a major player in their 2011 Grand Final run. A Junior Kangaroo in 2011, Pangai would play 1 NRL game for the Cowboys in 2012, his only first grade appearance to date, before spending time with the Panthers, Tigers and Raiders. In 2015, he joined the Townsville Blackhawks and, after two strong seasons, earned an NRL contract with the Brisbane Broncos for 2017.
2. Jordan Rankin (Gold Coast Titans)
v Cronulla, Round 12, 2008 (16 years, 167 days)
A two-time Australian Schoolboy, Rankin underwent a meteoric rise in 2008 in which he went from SG Ball to NYC to the NRL, at just 16 years of age. After moving up to the Titans’ NYC team, Rankin played just 5 games before being called up to make his first grade debut, coming off the bench against Newcastle. In doing so, Rankin became the third youngest player to make their debut in Australian first-grade rugby league. He would spend the next two years back in the NYC before returning to first grade in 2011. Rankin would play just 17 games for Titans, signing with Hull FC in 2014. After two seasons and 47 games in the north of England, Rankin returned to the NRL in 2016, becoming a first grade regular with the Wests Tigers.
1. William Hopoate (Manly)
v Wests Tigers, Round 24, 2008 (16 years, 106 days)
The youngest debutant in competition history, Hopoate was a star fullback coming through the grades. In 2008, he represented the NSW under-16 side and was selected for the Australian Schoolboys. Later that season, he made his NYC debut for Manly, playing the final three games of the year and scoring a try in each. In 2009, he joined Manly’s NRL squad, making his first grade debut a year later. In 2011, he became a regular first grader, a NSW State of Origin representative and a premiership winner, scoring a try in Manly’s NRL Grand Final win over the Warriors. A two-year Mormon mission followed for Hopoate, but not before signing a two-year contract with Parramatta, starting in 2014. After two seasons in the Blue and Gold, he joined his current club Canterbury, where he is currently their starting fullback.