Former Origin player Adam Mogg has overseen one of the most impressive young players through the opening rounds of the 2018 Intrust Super Cup – 19-year-old Redcliffe Dolphin Kotoni Staggs.
A Brisbane Broncos-contracted talent, Staggs would have still been running around in the National Youth Competition (NYC) this season had it continued.
However, Mogg believes a decision to scrap that competition and funnel the developing youth players back to the Intrust Super Cup has been a winner.
“Kotoni’s had some outstanding games, sure, but he hasn’t been at his best every week and that’s what this competition teaches young men,” Mogg says.
“Intrust Super Cup is a truer pathway, in that it gives you a better mark of where you stand in the grand scheme.
“You see a lot of players in that youth bracket submitting five-out-of-ten performances when really they need to be consistently above seven-out-of-ten if they want to think about NRL.
“In the Intrust Super Cup, just one or two guys having a five-out-of-ten game will mean you get beaten.”
Mogg says incorporating more young players into the Intrust Super Cup is not only better for player development and spectator enjoyment, but it has also made the league more even and unpredictable.
On several weekends, clubs have suffered heavy defeats just a week after a big win, even against opposition they have been favoured to beat.
“I think that has a lot to do with the influx of young guys and them finding their feet,” he says.
“In Intrust Super Cup they find the physicality is higher, the body contact is more consistent, the players are better, their experience and maturity is better…basically every aspect is better than it was in NYC.
“You can’t just turn up and think it’s all going to happen for you.”
Not that Mogg is saying Staggs is the kind of player that takes anything for granted, but he is also reluctant to overhype the product of the Wellington Cowboys, in New South Wales’ central west.
Staggs immediately announced himself to the Intrust Super Cup when he scored two tries and four goals on debut. In just three games he has amassed 46 points to be among the leading scorers in the comp.
He also scored a double on debut when he started the year in the Hastings Deering Colts Under 20s competition.
“Staggsy is a quiet kid, a very good listener who understands football really well,” says Mogg.
“He pick things up quickly and has some of that real ‘old school’ feel for playing the game naturally.
“I haven’t had to do a lot to coach him. I just throw a jersey on him and he goes out and does his thing.”
Staggs' hometown of Wellington is home to 4000 people and situated on the highway between Dubbo and Orange.
The region has had its troubles – with the likes of drought, drug usage and domestic violence all combining for negative national headlines.
However, one thing that Wellington holds dear is its ability to produce talented footballers and Staggs follows in the footsteps of the likes of current Panthers whiz Tyrone Peachey, and Australian representatives Terry Fahey and Blake Ferguson.
Reporter Nick Wright has been covering rugby league in the Central West region since 2010 and says Staggs is a fitting torchbearer for the area.
“He was as dominant a junior player as anyone I’ve seen in Group 11 or Group 10,” says Wright.
“Everyone would know who he is from around here and continue to follow his fortunes.
“Someone like that only comes along so often.
“Wellington hadn’t won an under 18s title in 20 years before Kotoni came along, and he pretty much carried them to that.
“I think there’s only two players to ever be selected for the Western Rams representative team when they were 17 and he was one of them.”
Earlier this year Staggs was also picked for the gold-medal-winning Australian squad at the Rugby League Commonwealth Championships.
Mogg says he is still unsure what Staggs’ best position is and, like Peachey, may be best suited to a freelancing role, filling multiple positions.
Staggs has played predominantly second row for the Dolphins, but has often appeared in the centres in previous years, and has been known to line up at five-eighth and lock.
“I hope that doesn’t get coached out of him to be honest,” says Mogg.
“To have a guy who is comfortable playing a wide variety of roles is a huge positive for any team. It’s like gold.
“Again, he’s a very natural footballer who finds his way to being in the right place at the right time.
“He did a chip-and-chase last week that I wasn’t happy with at the time, but he actually got the ball back.
“How many second rowers chip-chase these days?”