While burning opposition players on a weekly basis as an up-and-coming junior before the turn of the millennium, there were no NSW Pathways Programs available to rising stars such as Anthony Minichiello.
Nevertheless, the premiership-winning Rooster graced our television screens as one of the most exciting fullbacks of the modern era, and one of the most dominant talents to step into the State of Origin arena.
With the now highly-progressed NSWRL Origin Pathways Program, headed by Jamie Feeney, firmly set in place once again in 2017, the most talented young players in the state have a golden opportunity to fast track their development with valuable lessons on and off the field directly from past legends of the game.
“There were not any [programs available to me] as a junior,” explained Minichiello to NSWRL.com.au.
“You got selected in the under-17s and under-18s and that was it, you play a game and see you later until next year.
“These programs are fantastic for the development of players and the development of the Blues, and it’s vital that we have some past players here as well.”
Those past players include Minichiello, Brad Fittler, Andrew Johns, Danny Buderus and Mark O’Meley, each taking particular players through specialised drills specific to their position.
While these players are the best under-16s and under-18s in NSW, and hope to be a part of their respective junior State of Origin battle later in the year, Minichiello finds simple, repetitive drills ideal for development, with the idea to turn basic skills into motor skills before anything else.
“With the outside backs it’s a lot to do with the basics, catching is paramount, then you do a lot of passing from dummy half out to halfback, so you have to make sure [the players] are on,” Minichiello said.
“It’s [also] making sure that they’re not doing anything fancy every time, doing the nitty gritty things first, and then when they feel good, then they can show off their talents.
“But first and foremost, you’ve just got to get into the grind of the footy match, and you can only prepare mentally for that, so there’s a bit of skill of what we’re doing today, but there’s also just trying to prepare these guys mentally to get their focus where it needs to be.”
The opening camp of 2017 is not all on the field, with a major focus being on personal growth and well-being.
The under-16 players were required to cook dinner for the under-18s and the staff last night, with the roles to be reversed tonight.
They are also put through the very specific SPARQ tests, which measure speed, agility and strength to the finest detail, and are also taken through various welfare workshops on wellbeing and psychology.
“You can’t just look at a player now with their physical attributes, it’s the whole lifestyle approach to being a professional athlete,” Minichiello said.
“Your diet, your sleep, your stretching, your hydration all comes into it and it’s vital, that’s what it has to be and that’s where it’s all going.”
The three day camp, held at the Sydney Academy of Sport in Narrabeen, is the first of many in 2017, with this particular one covering all bases just before the respective Harold Matthews and SG Ball competitions kick off in February.