After impressing in his first grade debut a week ago, Western Rams junior Ben Lovett has been tipped to make his NRL debut with the South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2022.
The Parkes junior got his first taste of the top level last weekend when he started in the second row for the Rabbitohs in their trial clash with the North Queensland Cowboys.
He got through plenty of work in the humid conditions, catching the eye of Rabbitohs teammate and former Indigenous All Stars player Yileen Gordon in the process.
Gordon and Lovett will play for the Rabbitohs' reserves at Mudgee on Saturday in the curtain-raiser to the Charity Shield match between South Sydney and St George Illawarra Dragons.
Souths have named a strong squad for the annual pre-season battle, with the likes of Cody Walker, Damien Cook, Alex Johnston and Thomas Burgess all named.
Those players were key to South Sydney's run to the NRL grand final last season and Gordon think Lovett wouldn't look out of place alongside them this year.
"He was one of the best (last weekend) and he's got a big future," Gordon said of Lovett, while visiting Wellinbgton Christian School with Souths Cares on Wednesday.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he got a couple of games of NRL this year.
"He's a typical country boy. He listens and is very respectful and I think Souths is the best club for him, to nurture that and his playing ability. It's not just about the footy player, it's about the whole person."
Lovett made seven runs for 47 metres against the Cowboys a week ago, but it was in defence where he shone.
Playing on the edge, the former Spacemen made 36 tackles in the energy-sapping tropical conditions.
"He's come on and been fantastic," Gordon said.
"He came through Jersey Flegg and got the chance with a train-and-trial (deal) and now he's with the NRL squad."
After starring for Parkes during his junior days and representing the Western Rams, Lovett made the move to Redfern after the 2019 Group 11 season.
He quickly set about making an impact in the lower grades and last year he was named the club's Jersey Flegg Player of the Year.
Lovett played 11 matches during the 2021 COVID-impacted season. He averaged 75 metres and 26 tackles per game in the back row and produced three 100-plus metre matches.
That earned him a contract extension and the chance to spend the 2022 pre-season with the NRL squad.
He will be in the second row again on Saturday when the Rabbitohs' NSW Cup side tackles the Dragons at Glen Willow.
The NSW Cup side also features recent Indigenous All Stars representative Shaquai Mitchell while Gordon will start on the bench.
Kick-off in that match is at 4.30pm before the Charity Shield at 7pm.
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