IT NOW seems only a matter of when, not if, Joe Ofahengaue makes his first grade NRL debut for the Brisbane Broncos.
The Collingwood Park product featured in the Brisbane Broncos 14-12 golden point extra-time win over Wigan at the World Club Series match in Wigan yesterday.
Ofahengaue more than held his own, but it doesn't mean the 19-year-old will feature for the Broncos top side when the NRL kicks off on March 5.
"He did his job when he was out there," Broncos under 20 coach Craig Hodges said.
"He didn't do anything wrong."
Not doing anything wrong is a big step for a teenager playing at such a level.
It is as close to NRL standard as he has come so far.
Hodges coached the Broncos under 20s to last year's National Youth Competition grand final, with Ofahengaue named the competition's best and fairest.
Ofahengaue impressed Broncos head coach Wayne Bennett enough in a pre-season trial against the North Queensland Cowboys to earn a spot on the plane to England.
His previous biggest Test was last year's under 20 test versus New Zealand and the National Youth Competition grand final, in which the Broncos went down to the Auckland Warriors.
But Hodges doubts he would have been in England had the Broncos had all their players available.
Having received his spot however, Ofahengaue has further implanted his name at the forefront of Bennett's mind as a future first grader.
Just how far into the future he'll have to wait for that opportunity is the big question.
"Wayne took the 18 fittest players he had," Hodges said of the squad that went to England.
"There's a fair few injures at the moment.
"A lot of players are coming back from surgery and not ready to go yet.
"It gave Joe perhaps an opportunity and careers can be won and lost on opportunities."
Hodges expects Ofahengaue to spend the 2015 season between the Broncos NYC team and the Intrust Super Cup, which could be good news for the Ipswich Jets.
Last year was Ofahengaue's second in the NYC and he was a dominant force against players a year older than him.
However Hodges believes he can still learn plenty from continuing in the under 20 competition.
"There's heaps he can learn," Hodges said.
"He's come on really well.
"He's got wonderful abilities for a young front rower.
"But there are things he needs to fix up before he becomes a regular first grader."
Hodges did not want to divulge what those were, but was effusive when asked about his strengths.
"He's got a great motor for a young forward," Hodges said.
"He's got a great appetite for work and you can't give them that.
"They've either got it or they don't.
"He's got a hunger to be better and is willing to learn.
"The things he has to work on can be sorted out.
"He's had one solid year in the 20s. The previous year he played some games in the centres and off the bench.
"But his apprenticeship is still to be served."
Needless to say then, that Hodges would be more than happy to spend most of his time in his team.
"If it was up to me I'd have him for another five years with us," he said.
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