Fans of the game, before you write off another youngster trying to make their mark in NRL, exercise patience, they need time to grow in the league.
Even these two players who will dominate the NRL for years to come have experience growing pains. Ponga dealt with injuries at the back end of his first full season in first grade and Cleary’s Panthers fell well short of expectations last year.
There are many halves now who have moved into their late twenties that have finally come into their own as starting calibre halfbacks or five-eighths.
Before linking up with the Roosters in 2017, Keary always showed flashes of the player he could become with his former team the South Sydney Rabbitohs who were not patient enough to wait till he fulfilled his potential.
Keary this past season won the Clive Churchill Medal when his Roosters beat the Storm in the Grand Final. His great season and performance in the Grand Final also earned the five-eighth a call up to the Australian Kangaroos team.
Expect to see Keary demand the ball more this season as his confidence will be sky high following last season’s efforts.
Although overpaid, the now 28-year-old Ben Hunt has also developed into a quality half like Keary.
Hunt, now with the Dragons, was a slow burner for the Broncos, coming off the bench playing hooker most of his young career before getting the chance to show his talent as Brisbane’s number one playmaker.
Hunt turned his impressive form with the Broncos into a $1.2 million a year contract with the Dragons.
If everyone remains patient, these young halves could be the ones to take their sides to a premiership somewhere down the road.
Ash Taylor (23-years-old) of the Titans tops the list as some have called him the new Jonathan Thurston.
Bulldogs coach Dean Pay will be expecting 22-year-old Lachlan Lewis to continue his growth in first grade this season and so will Storm coach Craig Bellamy who needs a big season from 21-year-old Brodie Croft.
Along with these two youngsters, many former players are tipping great things for the Eels Dylan Brown right out of the gate. We may need to pump the breaks a little as Brown is still only 18 and yet to make his debut in first grade.
An interesting story to watch will be the Warriors’ halves battle since the departure of Shaun Johnson. Blake Green (32), another player who was a late bloomer will be the incumbent, with Chanel Harris-Tavita (19) and Adam Keighran (21) the other players fighting for the other spot beside Green.
Patience must also be shown by Cowboys coach Paul Green as he attempts to replace Jonathan Thurston with either Te Maire Martin (23) or Jake Clifford (21), who are both battling for the spot next to Michael Morgan.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart will be taking a risk by moving Jack Wighton into the halves to begin the season. Although already 26, Wighton may not hit his stride as the Canberra five-eight until late in the season.