Having boasted the best in the world for some time, the NSWRL is set to realise the potential of its biggest weapon for player development: elite sports high schools.
The superiority of high school Rugby League in NSW has been indisputable in recent years; the nationally-contested GIO Schoolboy Cup has headed north of the border just three times this millennium. With the progressive inclusion of Rugby League programs, sports high schools across the state have lured many future NRL and representative stars into their ranks – a fact that is clear for all to see in competitions such as the NSWRL’s annual All Schools Carnival. The connection between these institutions and the state’s governing body, however, is set to be improved dramatically.
The NSWRL today held an off-season testing day for all Rugby League students at Endeavour Sports High School – the nursery responsible for current NSW VB Blues player Blake Ferguson and countless other NRL stars. Using the same hi-tech facilities used in all NSWRL Pathways programs, the years 7-11 students were tested on their agility, power, speed and fitness in a first for Rugby League in NSW. Performance Programs Manager Jamie Feeney, who oversaw the day alongside NSW Under-16 and Under-18 coach Brad Fittler, knows the relationship with sports high schools is a vital one for the game’s future in NSW.
“The NSW Sports High School Association approached us to get involved and see if they can form part of a Pathways group for NSWRL,” Feeney tells NSWRL.com.au. “It’s great for us to be able to get out here and get another touch point with the juniors who are playing Rugby League in NSW, so we can identify the right players to come through and play.”
Endeavour is one of seven NSW schools with targeted sports programs, all of which include Rugby League as a subject. As well as on-field training and development, these programs involve off-field education, which Feeney says is the biggest prospect for the NSWRL.
“It gives us a bit of an opportunity to have an influence on what they get taught – especially some of the curriculum which is off field,” Feeney adds. “It’s another chance for when they’re not in with us to get taught the things that we want to teach.
“This is really a focus that we can have to develop the NSW brand of player that we’re after.”
Already enjoying a strong association with the Cronulla Sharks – and regularly producing players for the Harold Matthews and SG Ball competitions – Endeavour’s Rugby League program will become more elite through initiatives such as professional player testing, according to coach Brad Kelly.
“Getting access to the technology that the NSWRL has got, it allows us to get a lot more-exact scores,” Kelly says. “Our kids can compare [their results] to all the data that they’ve collected across the state so for us it gives them a bit of a guide as to where they are.
“Hopefully the relationship will continue year to year and we can help them as much as they can help us.”
While the junior representative system has long been used to showcase the best young talent to NRL clubs and the NSWRL, the selection of these players is down to the clubs themselves, which usually comes following a few trial games and pre-season training sessions. By beginning to record data on high school students, the NSWRL can ensure that the best athletes earn Harold Matthews or SG Ball selection.
“It’s sort of widening the net a little bit more,” Feeney explains. “A bigger net to catch more talented players in the school system that we might not get to see in the junior reps system.
“There’s a couple in each age group that are just outstanding athletes. You sort of grab hold of them and turn them into footballers after that.”