In terms of an individual performance, it was just about a career killer. Thrust into an NRL starting debut, 19-year-old Albert Kelly, a cousin of Greg Inglis, endured a forgettable occasion. In a 30-8 defeat by South Sydney at Toyota Stadium last March, Kelly, picked by then Cronulla coach Ricky Stuart at fullback, was haunted by the high ball, conceding two tries with cringe-inducing mistakes and looking thoroughly lost and out of his depth thereafter. Yet a deflated Stuart, entering his infuriating final months with the Sharks, would only utter positive remarks about the teenager in the aftermath. ”What I am wishing is I had another 16 of him. He is going to be a real player that kid,” he said. Stuart is gone but his attitude then is reflective of how Kelly is viewed in the Sutherland Shire. Chosen at five-eighth for the Sharks’ first-round visit to Canberra on Sunday, he is still regarded, as he was as a youngster at Parramatta, as a potential star. There is a concession that Kelly simply was not ready for first grade – particularly out of position at fullback – but Cronulla were in such dire straits they had few other options. He continued at fullback for two more games, improving against the Eels in the next round before being dumped after their 40-12 hammering by Manly in round five. He would not play in the NRL again all season. A shy type off the field, the unfriendly initiation rattled Kelly. However, a strong pre-season in the trials and in the gym has those in the know at the Sharks falling over themselves to give him a second chance. ”Unfortunately it went a bit pear-shaped for him in one game,” said Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, who was Stuart’s assistant at the time. ”He’s still got talent – we all knew he was going to be a good player. It did affect him, that game, but I think he’s learnt from that. There is a fine line between success and failure.” Flanagan does not intend to draw a substantive conclusion from Kelly’s display against the Raiders, putting faith in the Macksville product and a new recruit, the more orthodox Wade Graham, to form a long-term combination and cement their places in the halves. There are alternatives, Tim Smith and Scott Porter, waiting in the wings. ”He’s not going to be judged on one game,” the coach said. ”Things didn’t go too well last time for him when he got an opportunity. But Albert has put on a bit of weight and he feels more comfortable at half. He’s a robust kid and he’s got some natural flair to beat someone one-on-one.” It was that blessed footwork and speed that convinced Stuart to blood Kelly in the first place, and for a short time retain him as a potential spark in a back line hopelessly lacking in danger. It was also, presumably, behind Kelly’s subsequent selection by Stuart, now the NSW Origin coach, in the 51-man Blues-in-waiting squad that gathered for a weekend camp in Sydney in January. One thing would appear certain this year – Kelly will not feature at fullback again for some time. That has less to do with last year’s episode than the eye-catching emergence in 2010 of Nathan Gardner, who made the position his own after a debut in round 10. Down the Shire way, they are hoping Kelly can do just the same at No.6.

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