THE history of the Newcastle Knights would suggest that sometimes a boy is more than capable of doing a man's job.
Owen Craigie was the youngest. Barely two months past his 17th birthday, the freakish talent made his top-grade debut off the bench in a 32-10 win against Brisbane in 1995.
It couldn't happen these days, not since rules were introduced preventing rookies from being blooded in the NRL before they have turned 18.
Among Craigie's teammates in his formative years were Andrew Johns and Matt Gidley, who both debuted as 18-year-olds, as in due course would Brett Kimmorley, Timana Tahu, Jarrod Mullen and Sione Mata'utia.
The latest teen sensation to follow in those illustrious footsteps, centre Bradman Best, was born seven weeks before Newcastle's 2001 grand final triumph.
Before he debuted last year, two weeks after his 18th birthday, teammate Kalyn Ponga described him as a "manchild" and his former NSW under-16s coach, Brad Fittler, predicted he was capable of going "all the way".
Eleven months down the track, there seems no reason to doubt Fittler's judgement.
Best could hardly have endured a more daunting initiation to first-grade football.
In his first game, the Knights were thrashed 46-4 by Wests Tigers and his opposite number, experienced David Nofoaluma, scored a hat-trick.
By the time he was selected for his fourth game in the NRL, the former Australian Schoolboy had been through three coaches, suffered a broken bone in his foot and been forced to move out his parents' home because of the NRL's stringent coronavirus protocols.
But the Woy Woy Roosters junior has handled every challenge with a physical and emotional maturity beyond his years.
As teammate Lachlan Fitzgibbon said this week: "He's unbelievable, for an 18-year-old ... he's just going from strength to strength."
He's unbelievable, for an 18-year-old ... he's just going from strength to strength.LACHLAN FITZGIBBON
In 10 games, Best has scored seven tries, showing a rare blend of power, pace and timing.
He's lined up against experienced centres like James Roberts, Moses Suli, Waqa Blake and Curtis Scott and kept them contained.
And perhaps just as impressive has been his willingness to combine with wingers Edrick Lee and Enari Tuala. Unlike some prodigies who dominate junior age groups and arrive in the NRL with selfish traits ingrained in their game, Best is already a team player.
But he also remains very much an L-plater who is a long way from the finished product.
In particular, Knights coach Adam O'Brien is encouraging him to "find a voice" on the field and communicate with his teammates.
"I definitely need to work on it," Best said.
"It's not so much being young. To be a good player, you need to have a voice. You need to be loud on the field.
"You need to know your role. For me, I definitely need to be better at that. The coach and the boys are into me, saying: 'Find a voice' ... so it's definitely something I want to improve on."
While he is quiet by nature, Best clearly possesses belief in his own ability and burning ambition, as evidenced this week when he revealed that winning the Dally M rookie-of-the-year award was one of his pre-season targets.
"At the start of the year, I did have that as one of the goals I wrote down, rookie of the year," he said. "But first off I've got be playing good footy and I've got to be in form to reach that goal."
Living the dream he may well be, but Best's regular visits to Soul Cafe to help feed the disadvantaged ensure he will never take his good fortune for granted.
"I've always wanted to do this, not matter the age," he said. "I just want to be good for the boys and be a good player.
"I guess I do pinch myself that I'm only 18, but it doesn't bother me."