Feeney Leads Pathways Clean Sweep
The last time a NSWRL Pathways team lost to Queensland was 17 June, 2015.
The Pathways program, which includes NSW Under-16s, NSW Under-18s, NSW Under-20s and the Harvey Norman NSW Women's sides, has enjoyed an unprecedented run of success in the two years since its inception - which is largely thanks to the man overseeing it all, Jamie Feeney.
Feeney came on board as the NSWRL Performance Programs Manager in March 2015, introducing the program which is the best of its kind in the game. While the state had long fielded teams across the four divisions, Pathways ties them together with consistent monitoring - which Feeney explains has been vital to the on-field results.
"Before then they just said “pick a team, go into camp for a week, play a game," Feeney tells NSWRL.com.au. "(Now) we’ve got dedicated people out there that know all about the players, the type of players we’re looking for.
"We actually pick players with skills that we like in the way we play - then it’s a matter of just getting them together to play together, rather than getting people that don’t have those skills and then re-teaching them."
Only the 2015 NSW Under-16s and Under-18s have suffered defeats since Feeney took the reins, with even the Harvey Norman NSW Women's side reversing their fortunes to be undefeated in three years. A new breed of NSW player - whether male or female - is the overall aim of the program.
"A major part of what we do is not just getting them together and teaching them what the footy is all about and how to play Origin footy," Feeney adds. "We teach all our players, male and female, about resilience and toughness and overcoming hurdles and injuries.
"We had a couple of girls that had been in our program since it started and got told at the start of the year that they wouldn’t be right to play. Both of them – Vanessa Foliaki and Kezie Apps – came back from really bad knee injuries at the start of the year to play well yesterday.
"There’s many examples of that."
While the women's side of Feeney's role has already delivered the ultimate interstate success, the end goal of the men's program is for new, high-quality players to be delivered to the senior State of Origin arena. After two years of the advanced training and monitoring regime, that goal might soon become a reality, with the likes of Nathan Cleary, Nick Cotric, Cam Murray, Blake Lawrie and Matt Dufty just some Pathways players who have recently impressed at NRL level.
"They’re guys that have been in our program that are now getting a start in the NRL and hopefully in however many years – maybe two, maybe three or maybe more – they’ll be playing the big stage in Origin.
"I think people like Cotric and Cam Murray are built for that Origin-type footy so hopefully they will go through."
It's inevitable that some current Pathways players will eventually represent the Blues and when that eventuates, they will be well-versed in the expectations of elite players.
"We’re asking our guys to get used to the things that they get asked to do in Origin camp," Feeney says. "When they go up there they know what the process is and it’s an easy transition for them into Origin.
"They’re already going to be nervous when they get their start and we’re trying to make them comfortable - and getting those professional habits in them as 16-year-olds."
Along with the expectations of daily monitoring, wellness reporting, injury reporting and rehab, the future stars of the Blues will be used to one more key habit: winning. That, of course, can only be a positive for NSW.