Sharks rookie knocking down NRL door
IT'S a matter of when, not if, teen sensation Bronson Xerri makes his NRL debut for Cronulla in 2019, according to new head coach John Morris.
Morris doesn't hesitate to nominate Xerri when asked who has impressed him since he initially took the reins from Shane Flanagan as interim coach in late December.
"The kid who is jumping out of the box is Bronson Xerri," Morris said.
After losing four of their starting back five - Valentine Holmes, Edrick Lee, Ricky Leutele and Jesse Ramien - the Sharks will be forced into a backline reshuffle.
Matt Moylan will start the year at fullback and Josh Morris and Josh Dugan have locked down the centre roles, leaving Sosaia Feki, Aaron Gray, Sione Katoa and Xerri to compete for the two wing spots.
Morris, who helped nurture Xerri through the lower grades, said the Aquinas Colts junior isn't just a contender to earn his first start this year, he's a chance to line up for round one.
"He's very impressive, a huge amount of potential," Morris said.
"This full-time pre-season has been really good for him. In particular these last two weeks he's really gone to another level.
"Defensively he'll need to continue to work hard to be an NRL player.
"But what he brings in attack, he's got so much potential, his speed, he's such a well-balanced runner. His ability to beat someone one-on-one and create something out of nothing is as good as anyone in our squad."
Former coach Shane Flanagan wanted to debut Xerri last year but was blocked by NRL age rules which prevent players coming into first grade before their 18th birthday.
The club late last year signed Xerri to a three-season deal and Morris said they had wanted to avoid a situation similar to that of Curtis Scott, who they developed through their junior system before he was signed from under their noses by Melbourne.
"He's been someone we've had to work hard to hang on to," Morris said.
"Clubs have been into him. He can play."
While Xerri came through the ranks as a centre, Morris said he had the tools to make it as a winger.
"I said to him the other day, you get your head around making your debut this year. You've got to get ready for that because that's where you are at the moment," Morris said.
"He's really knocking on the door."