FAN FAVOURITES NUMBER FIVE
They’ve progressed through the grades with the expectation that comes with some of football’s most famous surnames.
But, for the likes of NSW Under-20s Pathways squad members Robert Jennings, Liam Coleman, Bayley Sironen and Nathan Cleary, that hasn’t been such a bad thing.
With tutelage from the game’s greats – their close family – the youngsters’ careers have blossomed.
For Bayley, having legendary Balmain, Kangaroo and NSW Blues forward Paul as his dad – and Wests Tigers forward Curtis as a brother – has been a blessing rather than a curse.
“From my perspective, having my brother and my old man around, they’re in my ear, giving me encouragement and telling me where I can improve and whatnot. I’m sure it’s the same with the other guys in our squad – having the guys around 24/7 helping improve their games too,” Bayley, recovering from surgery to repair torn ligaments and floating cartilage in his left ankle, tells NSWRL.com.au.
“[Dad] sometimes pulls out the old films – apparently he went alright. We used to have a VCR at home. Sometimes the games will be played on TV now and he’ll show us a few runs or some of his tackles.
“Curtis and I were five-eighths coming through the grade and now we’re back-rowers dad’s enjoying that a bit, I think, that we’re following in our footsteps. He’s adapted to the game too a bit, which is good, a few tips on being professional with the fitness, rehab and diet and stuff like that.”
For Liam Coleman, son of legendary Rabbitohs halfback Craig, dad ‘Tugga’ has set a foundation – a pathway, if you like – for him to follow.
“Dad’s had a big influence on my career to date but now it’s up to me – it’s my own path, my own journey,” Coleman says.
“He tries to get a few videos out from time to time but we don’t have a tape recorder at home any more. When they come up on Fox Sports, he records them and saves them so when we come home he’ll talk himself up and show us what he was like. No one’s allowed to delete them!
“He played tough, told the forwards what to do and I’m just taking a bit out of dad’s game and comparing that to modern-day players and making my own style out of that.”
For Robert Jennings, strikingly similar in appearance to brother and VB Blues centre Michael, his sibling’s achievements have also shown a path for him to follow.
“I try to follow his footsteps but he just tells me to play my own game. Just seeing how he progressed, he made his own way there and that’s a challenge for myself – I want to make it my own way too, without his help. He’s had a massive influence on my game though,” Robert, a groomsman at Michael’s recent wedding, says.
“He’s definitely faster than me but our game’s definitely different. I don’t really see myself as quick and elusive like him – I’m more just straight runs and power, I think.
“It’s definitely a goal to play with him, to play with Michael and my other brother George too. Hopefully one day we can make that come true and all play together.”
For NSW under-20s coach Dean Pay, Jennings, Coleman, Sironen and Cleary possess talent that could take them a long way in rugby league.
“It’s interesting to see how they’ve all come at the same time. They’re all fine players in their own right and it’ll be interesting to see how they go,” Pay says.
“Jenko (Robert Jennings) played last year, he played pretty well for us. I don’t know what it is about the Jennings boys but they’re all athletic kids, it’s a credit to their family because they’re all terrific young blokes. Robert’s a centre as well, he’s powerful and carries the ball well and he’s a good defensive centre – and you don’t need to give him a lot of opportunities for him to take it.
“Cleary plays in the halves and I haven’t seen a hell of a lot of him but from all reports he’s a cool head and it’ll be interesting to see how he goes.
“[Bayley] is a spitting image of both Curtis and Paul – dad’s left his mark there! I was speaking to [Paul] about Bayley and he said he’s a really good defender and he’s going well. He’s had a few injuries so he’s just looking for a bit of consistency in staying on the park.
“I’m not sure how good Liam is on the verbal like his old man (Craig) but from all reports he’s a terrific young bloke and Tugga should be very proud of him. We’re a bit fortunate this year, we’ve got some real depth in the halves to choose from which is very positive and will make for good competition.”
For Bayley Sironen – and for the rest of the youngsters from football’s finest bloodlines – rep camps like last weekend’s mark an opportunity for them all to leave their own legacy; to make their own impact; to create their own highlights reel. And, of course, to manhandle the Maroons.
“The rivalry’s always going to be there. It’s good, it builds up the game and it’s important,” Sironen says.
“I guess hatred is a good word to use. I’ve always lived in NSW so I’ve always had that dislike of Queensland.”
Just like the rest of the family.
[This article appeared during 2015 and has been replayed as part of NSWRL.com.au's "Fan Favourites" section. Stay tuned to NSWRL.com.au in 2016 for the best of the NSW VB Blues, NSW Cup, Country-City Origin and all the other senior and junior competitions.]