NRL 2020: Penrith Panthers, Stephen Crichton, younger star’s one of a kind road to the top

In the second of a series on the breakout stars of the NRL in 2020 top into the finals, Troy Whittaker facts the options Stephen Crichton faced in advance of deciding to chase a job in rugby league.


He could’ve preferred basketball or Australian Procedures, but Stephen Crichton’s alternative to pursue rugby league at the urging of his father has been emphatically vindicated.

From enjoying division-a few junior footy five years in the past to being a Dally M Rookie of the Year contender this time, the 19-calendar year-outdated Panthers centre was not often earmarked for the top.

The son of a pastor and just one of 6 children, Crichton was born in Apia, Samoa where his mothers and fathers, Va’a and Sina, labored in an onion factory.

The family moved to New Zealand when Crichton was two prior to relocating to Australia in lookup of further more prospect.

“My moms and dads weren’t rich as substantially as they are now when they have been in Samoa,” Crichton told

From teen to consider-scoring equipment: Stephen Crichton’s 2020 so far

“They didn’t have more than enough to increase four kids there. And then my small brother and sister came when we had been right here. Comprehensive credit score to my Mum and Dad. Just about every time I communicate to them about it, I get emotional.”

Crichton’s 24-12 months-old brother Christian, a winger for the Bulldogs, presented a lot more perception into their humble upbringing.

“We are grateful for everything we have. We did not have substantially growing up but we had sufficient we had our spouse and children, every other,” Christian stated.

Look at Stephen run close to on ladder-top Penrith’s lethal remaining edge and everything he does appears to be like smooth. Effortless.

So it is hard to fathom that a bloke who’s scored 14 attempts in 2020 did not demonstrate significantly all-natural potential as a youngster, according to Christian.

“But he was that child that was usually in the backyard kicking the vacant bottle about. He was normally outdoor,” he stated.

Crichton is among the the most recent in a fabled line of Patrician Brothers, Blacktown students to graduate into an NRL star. That seemed a long shot when he was in Year 9.

“I was playing at St Mary’s [junior league] – div 3. I could not make the ones or twos facet. There was heaps of gun players again then but they do not perform any longer,” Crichton reported.

“I produced the shift to St Clair. I met the mentor there, Jason, and he just asked me, ‘What position do you want to perform?’ I was telling him that I just preferred to participate in div 1 due to the fact I hadn’t performed before.”

Christian added: “He started off in the halves, that’s where he will get his ball abilities from. He experienced a mad advancement spurt and got chucked broader.”

Not only did that development spurt enable the now 6-foot-3 Crichton’s rugby league job – he was shortly brought into the Panthers system – it designed him an great top for basketball.

“I experienced just one mate who went to The united states and he was speaking to me about getting basketball critical, due to the fact he reckons that I can take that route as properly and go a considerably way with that,” Crichton explained.

“I was contemplating about it. I had a trial for schoolboys Australia basketball and a demo for Australian Schoolboys rugby league as perfectly.”

Ben Harden, Crichton’s 1st coach at Penrith, experienced no difficulties with the outside the house again juggling two sports activities.

“He would miss out on Jersey Flegg [under-20s] teaching on a Thursday afternoon mainly because he’d be taking part in MCS [Metropolitan Catholic Schools] basketball, which we backed,” Harden mentioned.

“I essentially stimulate our gamers to play a further activity, I imagine it can be fantastic for their ability-set and their brain. We had the school ringing likely, ‘Can Stephen still play basketball?’ in Yr 12.”

Harden had “no question” he could have been a basketball accomplishment.

Crichton also excelled at Australian Regulations, even trialling with the Increased Western Sydney Giants.

“Mum desired me to perform that,” he mentioned of AFL. “But Dad had the very first say and required me to participate in footy.”

So as an alternative of dunking or taking marks, Crichton’s height and leap are made use of when he plucks halfback Nathan Cleary’s bombs from the sky.


He began off in the halves, which is wherever he gets his ball abilities from. He had a mad growth spurt and acquired chucked broader.

Christian Crichton on brother Stephen&#13

“The greatest players we have at Penrith all have a definitely very good track record in several sports activities,” Panthers head of performance Hayden Knowles explained.

“Even men like Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary, they performed soccer until the age of about 12.

“I’m significant believer in letting them play every thing … Stephen Crichton is possibly the poster boy for that.”

And his basketball capabilities have not waned.

“In the COVID crack, I questioned him to write-up us a tiny online video of him slam-dunking simply because I preferred every person to do some basketball for their athletic progress,” Knowles explained.

“He posted this movie to the boys on the WhatsApp page – it was freakish. You know those people slam-dunk contests the place they bounce the ball and they’re in the air and arrive at out with it in 1 hand?

“I was like, ‘Holy s–t’.”

Music is another of Crichton’s abilities.

“I play guitar, drums and sing a bit. It can be all from church,” he claimed.

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“As the pastor’s young children, they would drop us in initially and we would be in the band. Which is probably in which I obtained the musician in me from.”

Crichton credited elite player growth supervisor Harden – who shocked the speedster by picking him in the less than-18s SG Ball side a year younger – with imparting substantially of his league grounding.

The teen’s function ethic caught Harden’s attention.

“And the amount of money he savored his schooling, primarily for a participant that was new to a system,” Harden said.

“In six weeks [of SG Ball he] had enhanced and absent previous approximately all gamers in the level of competition that experienced been close to for many yrs.”

There was a “lightbulb” time period where Harden realised Crichton experienced the mettle for very first quality.

Immediately after winning the 2018 SG Ball title, Crichton and prop Spencer Leniu played in the Jersey Flegg beneath-20s team as nicely as turning out for Patrician Brothers in the NRL Schoolboy Cup.

“They finished up backing up to engage in in a National Schoolboys final the very same 7 days as the Jersey Flegg ultimate,” Harden claimed.

“Properly, for 18-calendar year-olds, they had been participating in in two competitions in semi-finals and grand finals in the identical weeks.

Spencer Leniu, Stephen Crichton and Matt Burton after their NRL debut in round 21, 2019 against the Sharks.
Spencer Leniu, Stephen Crichton and Matt Burton right after their NRL debut in spherical 21, 2019 in opposition to the Sharks.&#13
©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos&#13

“I was driving them from university training to choose them to do restoration on their personal at an off-site place.

“Their professionalism and will to earn at that age, and the affect they were being acquiring on both of those online games, was astonishing.”

Crichton lost both of those grand finals but Harden said he was “one particular of the greater gamers on the area” irrespective of the benefits.

An NRL debut came in round 21 very last year – a gain from Cronulla – and Crichton has now cemented his location in Ivan Cleary’s crew.

Knowles is usually nervous when younger gamers have a rapid entrance to the NRL  – “if something arrives so straightforward are they heading to just take the schooling aspect seriously?” – but Crichton has eased his concerns.

“His physical fitness take a look at success are very outstanding. It was actually satisfying to see he’s received a huge motor,” Knowles reported.

“At the commence of the year, Ivan would toss him into the staff as a fullback, so he’s obtained an engine to participate in fullback.

“To have a in good shape centre is pretty handy. Normally centres, if any place in the sport, battle with health and fitness. There are some teams in the comp in which their centres could possibly not be as suit as the coach would like.”

Knowles said the likes of Dean Whare, James Fisher-Harris, Nathan Cleary and Zane Tetevano have set the typical for Crichton.

Achievement hasn’t changed his down-to-earth individuality. Brother Christian described him as a “joker” and a “pest”.

“He won’t just take everything serious, everything’s a chortle. At home you can not sit all-around him for the reason that he always farts,” Christian laughed.

“I swear, I’m not even joking. He normally farts for like no reason.”

Harden also painted a image of a jovial character.

“He’s tremendous favourable, he is bought a wonderful point of view on everyday living, even though he wants to acquire in almost everything he does. He is acquired a really powerful religion and he is pretty strongly linked with his spouse and children and mates,” he claimed.

“To be reasonable, the Stephen that rolls out now on the initial-quality field laughing and joking is the exact Stephen that rolled into our SG Ball method four yrs in the past, possessing entertaining and coaching tricky.”