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Queensland flyer Jordan Petaia set tongues wagging after an eye-catching display in Queensland’s Super Rugby opener, but his usually understated coach may have just provided the biggest compliment yet.

A last-minute injury stopped the 18-year-old becoming the third-youngest Wallabies player of all time last November when he was ruled out of the Test against Italy on match eve.

He wasted no time pushing for a recall in the Reds’ tight loss to the Highlanders on Friday, starring in the centres alongside captain Samu Kerevi.

Coach Brad Thorn has often steered clear of overzealous praise, particularly of his young talents. But the former All Black was effusive of the teenager post-game and on Monday made a comparison between Petaia and John Eales while at the retired Wallabies great’s statue unveiling at Suncorp Stadium.

“He was performing all last year, that’s not a surprise, those sorts of performances because he played some great rugby last year,” Thorn said. “But just as important to me is that he’s a great young man, similar to the man with the statue behind me.

“A humble guy, has a great family and it’s just great to have him around.”

Petaia made some Highlanders look like statues at Forsyth Barr Stadium last week and will be tested again at home against the back-to-back champion Crusaders on Saturday.

The Reds’ performance caught the eye of former captain Eales, who tipped his hat to Thorn on Monday.

“You could tell there was a lot of belief,” he said. “It showed that they’re genuinely a side that could play a number of styles and not be flustered even when down.

“There wasn’t an inevitability of the result when they were down.”

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