Murray Taulagi’s breakout 2022 season is set to draw further accolades as the high-flying winger prepares for a maiden finals appearance alongside nine other North Queensland teammates.
Taulagi, Scott Drinkwater, Jeremiah Nanai, Tom Dearden, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Tom Gilbert, Reuben Cotter, Griffin Neame, Reece Robson and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown are all players yet to appear in the NRL finals.
They are regulars in a Cowboys team that bolted to a third-placed finish just 12 months after coming second-last in their fourth-straight year in the bottom four.
And they are all 25 years old or younger.
Taunoa-Brown and Neame are the only question marks for their clash with Cronulla at PointsBet Stadium, with Coen Hess returning from suspension and one of the pair dropping to the reserves.
Taulagi clocked up 23 appearances for North Queensland in the regular season, scoring 15 tries and finishing tied first overall for intercepts.
His form earned a call up to Queensland’s origin side for their series win, and he now awaits a first finals opportunity after signing for the Cowboys out of high school.
“It’s crazy to think about it,” Taulagi told AAP.
“The last couple of years we’ve been preparing for the off-season and now we’ve got to prepare ourselves for finals, which is pretty surreal for myself.
“I didn’t think I’d be where I am right now.
“We have a really tight group and we just want to do everything for each other and always want to have each other’s back.”
Taulagi has had his eyes on a clash with Cronulla for some weeks after missing their round 18 fixture at home due to COVID-19.
It’s not just because of the loss his side suffered but due to a strong friendship with opposing winger Ronaldo Mulitalo, whom he’ll line up against in their finals showdown.
“We come from the same area back home,” he said of their New Zealand heritage.
“It’ll be our first game against each other on opposing wings. I’m really looking forward to it.”