Perth Glory poised to unleash talented 16-year-old in season-opener

Full story first published for SBS’ The World Game:

In a season in which A-League youth forcing themselves into the spotlight has been one of the major talking points, another of the competition’s most promising youngsters appears set to earn their moment in the sun.

With league demographics shifting this season due to the effects of the reduced broadcast deal with Fox Sports and challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, A-League clubs have increasingly been turning to young players in 2020/21. 

Though caveats must be observed surrounding extended benches for Australian U23 players and an increase in available substitutes to five, the average age of squads so far this season sits at 26.1 – one of the lowest figures ever – and the likes of James Delianov, Lachlan Rose, Alou Kuol, Connor Metcalfe, Ramy Najjarine and more have all shone. 

Now, SBS The World Game understands that when Perth Glory takes the field against Adelaide United at HBF Park on Wednesday night, Josh Rawlins appears set to get his chance to add his name to those exciting ranks; emerging as the club’s front-runner to replace the departed Ivan Franjic on the right side of the Glory defence.

At 16 years and 272 days, he would be the second-youngest player to see the field so far this season – Reds’ attacker Mohamed Toure the youngest – and take the mantle from Yaya Dukuly, another Red, as its youngest starter. 

When reached for comment by The World Game, Glory coach Richard Garcia wouldn’t be definitively drawn on if Rawlins was planned to start the fixture, emphasising he remained in competition but praised the work that Rawlins had put in during the pre-season. 

“We have not been shy in stating that we have wanted to give young West Australian talent a go,” the Glory boss said. “Josh has done extremely well in the last 14-weeks and he is one of the guys pushing for a first-team spot.”

Thanks to a combination of being unable to train while they underwent a two-week hotel quarantine period following their Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign and complications surrounding COVID-19-enforced border closures, Wednesday’s meeting with United will be Glory’s first game of the 2020/21 A-League season. 

After a nervy start to their offseason, the club made a series of impressive signings as 20/21 approached, including Sebastian Langkamp, Kosuke Ota, and Darryl Lachman, and has handed roster spots to a number of talented academy prospects including Rawlins, Luke Bodnar, Bryce Bafford, Nick Walsh, Trent Ostler, Daniel Walsh, and Mason Tatafu. 

Dynamic Socceroos’ attacker Chris Ikonomidis is also set to complete his rehabilitation and eventually return to work alongside Andy Keogh and Bruno Fornalroli at the tip of the club’s spear. 

Diego Castro, after missing the end of last season’s hub-based run home, is also set to pull on the purple again but is likely to miss the clash with the Reds due to a minor knee injury. 

Should Rawlins take the field as expected against Adelaide, he will become the youngest starter for Glory since Jacob Italiano – who parlayed his form out West into a move to Bundesliga side Borussia Mönchengladbach – and the fourth-youngest player in club history. 

Daniel De Silva and Gabriel Popovic, Glory’s other youngest debutants, also moved overseas after their A-League breakthroughs; the former to AS Roma and the latter to Greek side Xanthi FC. 

Growing up in the Perth suburb of Guildford, Rawlins first taste of senior football came at just 15-years-of-age, when he was substituted on against English superpowers Manchester United under the bright lights of Optus Stadium in 2019. Though not used by then-Glory boss Tony Popovic during the subsequent A-League season, he did appear in 14 of 16 possible games for Glory’s NPL side. 

His senior competitive debut eventually arrived in Glory’s Asian Champions League campaign under Garcia, becoming the seventh-youngest player in tournament history and youngest at the 2020 iteration when he made four appearances and three starts in the Doha-based tournament. This included a 67-minute start against eventual champions, Ulsan Hyundai. 

Indeed, being the youngest player in his XI is nothing new to Rawlins. He was also the youngest member of Trevor Morgan’s Joeys’ squad that went to the U17 World Cup in Brazil: watching on from the bench in their initial match with Ecuador before starting subsequent fixtures against Hungary, Nigeria and eventual champions France. 

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