TIM SHEENS has a reputation for turning teenagers into NRL sensations but the Tigers coach remains undecided whether to give rookie fullback James Tedesco the Benji Marshall-Chris Lawrence treatment for round one.
Sheens has one week to decide whether to throw the 19-year-old his NRL debut against the Sharks at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday week, or go with a bit more experience with either Mitch Brown, Joel Reddy, Tom Humble or Beau Ryan at the back.
Tedesco was one of the Tigers' best in the 28-24 loss to the Roosters at Campbelltown on Saturday, scoring a try, making several half breaks and showing off his defence with a copy-book tackle to shut down a Roosters' raid in the second half. It wouldn't be the first time Sheens has thrown a teenager into the deep end - he gave Marshall his maiden NRL appearance at the age of 18, while Lawrence was a year younger.
The diminutive Camden junior has done everything asked of him in the off-season and in the trials, putting forward a strong case to Sheens for selection in round one. But Sheens is giving little indication as to who will wear the No. 1 in the opening round.
The club recently extended Tedesco's contract until the end of 2014 with a long-term vision for him to become their permanent fullback, offloading promising No. 1 Jake Mullaney to the Eels just to keep him at the club.
Tedesco's trial form makes him almost impossible to overlook, and while captain Robbie Farah agrees that he's the future of the club, he refused to put added pressure on his inexperienced shoulders by confirming his place in the season opener.
"Everything that's been thrown at him so far he's handled, which I guess is a good sign," Farah said. "The club's got high expectations of him … they've signed him up long term and he's the future fullback of this club.
"Whether that's round one or not, I'm not too sure, but there's some quality signs from him and we're all excited about what potentially he can do for us."
Assistant coach Steve Georgallis likened Tedesco to the Panthers' Lachlan Coote, which was evident in the way he leapt above Roosters fullback Alofa Alofa to grab the opening try of the Foundation Cup on Saturday.
He showed no signs of stage fright and didn't look out of place in the top grade, and Farah believes he is up to the task of making his NRL debut if Sheens were to pick him.
"Sometimes you throw a kid in the trials and you just know straight away they can't handle it and need a bit more time," Farah said, "But I think he's shown that he's ready and now it's just up to the coach and whether he thinks he's ready."
While Tedesco played 80 minutes on Saturday night, Sheens has several fullback options at his disposal. Brown made his return from injury at the weekend, while Humble and Reddy have also played at the back for Parramatta in the past and are in Sheens's calculations.
Ryan, who scored a hat-trick on the right wing on Saturday, has also spent some time at the back under Sheens, and with Matt Utai and Lote Tuqiri considered specialist wingers, he may also come under consideration as the Tigers' No. 1.
While there is no doubting Tedesco's natural talent, which had him go from the SG Ball to the Tigers' Toyota Cup player of the year in the space of six months, Farah insists there is more to being a fullback than the ability to attack. Reading play is also crucial.
"As a young kid playing at fullback, he's obviously got to be a big talker," he said.
"He's got to boss guys around, and as a young kid coming through it's a bit tough to do. But I think if he gains a bit of confidence there and can up his voice a bit, that's when I think we'll start to see the best of him. "