It’s safe to say Josh Starling wasn’t a household name before 2014. That’s all changing as the former Rabbitoh has cemented a spot in a star-studded side gunning for the minor premiership.
With Jason King injured to start the year, the 24-year-old was given an opportunity to take his spot and has played every game since. Mimicking the rapid rise of Brenton Lawrence last season, the Helensburgh junior has been vital to the Sea Eagles’ consistent campaign.
He is averaging 21 tackles, 0.8 missed tackles and 88 run metres, with only four errors all season. As the finals approach, it’s promising to compare his average metres from rounds nine to 12 (75) with rounds 17 to 20 (97.5). The flashy superstars may get the accolades but their work isn’t possible without Starling doing the hard yards in an underrated front row.
His opponent, Corey Parker, is versatile, skilful and plays to a level that belies his 32 years. Since shifting to prop this season, he is making fewer metres than 2013 (126.3 v 141.6) but failed in just two games to run more than 100 metres. Further, he is making fewer average tackles than last season (32.9 v 42.1) but has slashed his missed tackles in half.
Then there’s his offloading ability. His nine for the Maroons in the dead rubber prompted Peter Sterling to proclaim it the best offloading display in Origin history. The World Cup winner leads the comp in offloads (44), leaving rugby-bound duo Sonny Bill Williams (41) and Sam Burgess (34) in his wake.
This is a real danger for the Sea Eagles. With speedy outside backs and the ever-improving Ben Hunt lurking, the second phase could land points for the visitors in an instant. Shutting it down will be a priority for the likes of Starling in the middle.