Promising NSW Country No.8 Will Harris is the Round 7 and final nomination for the 2019 NRC Rising Star award.
Won in its inaugural season by Fijian Drua star Alivereti Veitokani in 2018, the award recognises emerging players with fewer than three games of Super Rugby or fewer than three Tests for the Flying Fijians.
Following the likes of Will Harrison and Harry Wilson, Will Harris is the latest of the highly regarded 2019 Junior Wallabies squad to receive this nomination, further underlining the extent of talent graduating from the Under-20s program, even if it promises to make work difficult for commentators in the coming years.
Having seen and been impressed with him over the course of the NRC, last Friday night represented the first opportunity for this writer to see Will Harris in the flesh, and the first thing that stands out about him is his sheer size.
Watching the Eagles walk toward a lineout against Canberra at Viking Park, Harris made his way toward the mark next to Country locks Tom Staniforth and Patrick Tafa.
And if you didn’t know who was who, and couldn’t see the numbers on the back of the jerseys, you could easily have assumed Harris was a lock. He stood at the same height as Staniforth and Tafa. The official numbers have Harris the same height at Tafa (194cm), with both standing a couple of centimetres below Staniforth (198cm).
A deeply investigative conclusion that Harris is a ‘big boy’ marries up with that of Eagles coach Robert Taylor.
“A big boy for a guy straight of school, yeah. And still eligible to play at the 20s World Cup next year,” Taylor told RUGBY.com.au this week.
“He’s a great prospect. A lot of times you see players come out of school, and they might be great in schoolboy rugby, but you look at the physical attributes, and you think ‘is he going to be able to really compete on the Super Rugby stage?’
“Will has got those attributes. In a full-time program, he’ll be able to build the strength and size around that frame he already has to excel at that level.
And that’s what’s exciting about Will Harris. You see him carry into traffic, and he takes some bringing down. You see noted ball-carriers, blokes with a few years’ pro rugby under their belt running in his direction, and he doesn’t just take make the hit, he dominates it.
There’s an immediate thought that this kid could be anything when he grows into his already 107kg frame. And then you re-look at his profile, and one line stands out like Harris himself.
Date of birth: 8 June 2000.
He’s not even nineteen-and-a-half.
“You sometimes forget that he’s first year out of school,” Taylor said.
“He’s playing against and winning collisions against guys that are four or five years older than him, and have played either a lot of Shute Shield rugby or a lot of Super Rugby.”
Taylor knew Harris had plenty about him as he was putting his NSW Country squad together, but the way the young number eight has taken the next step up as a 19-year-old, and in the company of player he’s up against, has just confirmed all those first suspicions.
“He’s got great composure about his game. He doesn’t get over-aroused, and he isn’t too relaxed. Whoever he’s playing against, he backs himself and goes about his business… yeah, there’s a lot to like about Will,” the Eagles coach explains.
“Looking at the stats from the weekend, and he made 11 tackles and missed none; seven carries for just under six metres per carry… for a schoolkid, or a school leaver. And that’s against a quality loose trio the Vikings had out there.
“He’s not too far off that, and give him a few years and he’ll be even better than those guys.”
It’s a big rap for a young player, but like a lot of the young guys coming out of this year’s ultra-exciting Junior Wallabies squad – five of them already earning Rising Star nominations this NRC season – there’s a genuine anticipation as this promising group of youngsters start graduating into senior rugby.
Taylor, also Sydney University’s Premiership-winning coach, remembers the moment he earmarked Harris for a role in this year’s NRC.
“I remember watching him when Easts bowed out against Eastwood in the Shute Shield semi-final, and having him on our team list, you just sort of go, ‘hmm, this is exciting’, and I was really looking forward to working with a young guy like this,” he said.
“We tried to have a big development focus with the Eagles this year, and Will being a perfect type of development player, he’s got the physical attributes to play against men, it had me looking forward to being part of his development in this stage of his career.
“It was nice to have him on our team list, and he’s been great to have in our team as well, at the end of the day.
“He’s a well-liked team guy; there’s not much I can say that is any real weakness. I’d have to get the magnifying glass out to find something!”
A worthy final Rising Star nominee for 2019, a very promising rugby career awaits Will Harris.
NRC 2019 Rising Star Nominees
Round 1: Will Harrison (Sydney flyhalf)
Round 2: Connor Vest (NSW Country lock)
Round 3: Noah Lolesio (Canberra flyhalf)
Round 4: Fraser McReight (Brisbane City backrower)
Round 5: Harry Wilson (Queensland Country no.8)
Round 6: Byron Ralston (Western Force winger)
Round 7: Will Harris (NSW Country no.8)
The 2019 NRC Rising Star will be revealed next week.