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Cup to NRL graduate: Jamal Shibasaki

It’s been a rapid rise to the top for young Mackay Cutters forward and Townsville product, Jamal Shibasaki.

The 18-year-old played in two Queensland Rugby League premiership deciders last year, representing the Townsville Blackhawks in the Mal Meninga Cup and Colts grand finals, ultimately winning a title with the under 21s.

He also made his Hostplus Cup debut with the club and picked up the player of the year title for Mal Meninga Cup at the QRL Awards.

Off the back of a stunning 2023, Shibasaki has been fast gaining traction as one of the most promising young forwards in the game and this Sunday he will take that step to the next level – his NRL debut.

Named on the bench for the North Queensland Cowboys, the former Ignatius Park College talent will muscle up against the Sydney Roosters while achieving a lifelong dream.

This year he has been playing his Cup footy with the Mackay Cutters through the Cowboys affiliation and his coach, Michael Comerford, said whenever Mackay has had a win this year, Shibasaki was a major influence behind it.

Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup Player of the Year Jamal Shibasaki

“Early on in the season, he had a pretty fast start to the year down that left edge,” Comerford said.

“That went a long way to us having a strong start as a team. We haven’t been able to involve him in the game as much as we’d like lately and that shows on the scoreboard.

“Then last week, we get him in the middle and all of a sudden the results turn around. That speaks for itself.

“He shows what genuine energy looks like at that next level. He’s one of the more competitive players, particularly for a young guy.

“He comes back every week from the Cowboys and all he wants to do is win and he does everything he can about that.

“One area that has impressed me is the work he does away from the ball.

“When you pay attention to it, he’s doing things that other guys aren’t and he creates opportunities. He has a big career ahead of him at the NRL level.”

Shibasaki - who was also named in the Queensland Under 19 Emerging Origin squad at the start of this year - is the younger brother of Townsville Blackhawks centre, Gehamat Shibasaki, who has also played in the NRL with the Brisbane Broncos, Newcastle Knights, South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Cowboys.

In Cup this season, the young gun has played in 10 games for the Cutters, scoring seven tries and making six line breaks, while also holding a 90.9 per cent tackle efficiency rate.

Due to turn 19 in a week’s time, Comerford said there was no concerns on how Shibasaki would handle the NRL at such a young age.

Not only is he a strong enough body – standing at 185-centimetres tall – but he has maturity beyond his years and a competitiveness that can’t be disputed.

Shibasaki: 'No words can explain this moment and how I feel'

“He is 18 and you can forget that when you see him because the physical presence would suggest otherwise,” Comerford said.

“And even in saying that, everyone would agree he still has physical development to go.

“When you’re talking to Jamal before and after the game, he’s definitely still a kid but once the first whistle goes or training or the game kicks off, there’s a pretty serious footballer there.

“His desire to win, not many young guys have that and he projects that out in the way he plays. He’s always confident in his ability because he’s trying to get his team to win.

“I saw that in his two grand finals last year and when I coached against him in Schoolboys when he was at Iggy Park… That’s the underlying trait of his football - everything he does is about winning.”

Main image: Jamal Shibasaki with teammates after scoring a try against Wynnum Manly. Photo: Ben Van Moolenbroek/QRL

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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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