All eyes may be on some of the Rabbitohs superstars during the end-of-season Four Nations tournament with the likes Greg Inglis and Sam, Thomas, George and Joe Burgess set to represent their countries, but South Sydney is also producing the next wave of representative stars as they come through the ranks at the Rabbitohs.
The South Sydney district, led by the football development staff at South Sydney Juniors and the Rabbitohs, has developed players that represented their nation at junior levels over the past few seasons and they are set to make an impact with the Rabbitohs and on the senior representative scene in the years to come.
This year we saw South Sydney junior Siosifa Talakai represent the Junior Kiwis against the Junior Kangaroos.
Talakai, a 19-year-old from the Mascot Jets, went on to play under 20s, NSW Intrust Super Premiership football with the North Sydney Bears, before making his first grade debut in June with the Rabbitohs against the Titans, in what turned about to be a breakthrough year for the former captain of the South Sydney SG Ball side.
Another SG Ball captain in Cameron Murray represented the Australian Schoolboys in 2015 and went on to represent the NSW under 18s this season where he was named captain as well as man-of-the-match in the state’s win over Queensland.
An 18-year-old Mascot jets junior, Murray played in the under 20s competition over the last two seasons once his SG Ball commitments were completed, progressing to playing against men in the NSW Intrust Super Premiership with the North Sydney Bears this year.
Murray has been earmarked as a future first grader at South Sydney and has shown he has the work ethic to progress to higher representative levels with continued hard work and focus.
Campbell Graham made his under 20s debut with the Rabbitohs 2016 and was selected in both Test matches for the Australian Schoolboys against England Academy towards the end of the 2016 season.
Graham, a 17-year-old centre or winger from the Coogee-Randwick Wombats club, played the full season of SG Ball under 18s football under the guidance of former Australian outside back Matt King before progressing to the under 20s and going on to represent his country.
A similar path has been followed by Mawene Hiroti, another 17-year-old who played with the Matraville Tigers, when he progressed through the SG Ball ranks to pull on the red and green of the Rabbitohs’ under 20s, followed by the green and gold of the Australian Schoolboys.
Couple these four junior stars with other South Sydney juniors in the ranks who played rep footy in 2016 such as NSW State of Origin player Adam Reynolds and Aaron Gray who scored four tries on debut for City Origin, and you can see what a fantastic job the player development and coaching staff at both Souths Juniors and the Rabbitohs are doing to produce quality players that want to perform in the red and green.
Rabbitohs Development Coach, Matt King, says the relationship between the Rabbitohs and the Juniors is hand-in-glove these days.
“When I first finished playing and took on the Development Coach role, one of the first meetings I had was with (Souths Juniors President) Keith McCraw down at the Juniors, to talk through the footy side of things and how we can make the transition more seamless when the kids come up through the grades,” King said.
“To me, one of the biggest parts of the job is to maintain a strong relationship with the Juniors and to work with our junior players and coaches to pass on what we believe are the best methods in coaching and training at the senior club.
“We want to make sure those methods run through the 20s, 18s, 16s and beyond, and that our junior coaches have a clear understanding of the best methods being used in the senior teams.”
King says he gets great satisfaction out of seeing the players he works with progress with their football.
“It’s enormous,” King said.
“The sense of satisfaction that you get when these boys achieve great things is unbelievable.
“I’ve had the opportunity over the past season to work closely with players like Cam (Murray), Campbell (Graham) and Mawene (Hiroti) and they’ve all had fantastic seasons.
“They are all naturally gifted but talent will only get you so far.
“There are other things which you need to get you to the top such as humility, work ethic, manners, good communication; and these guys have these attributes.
“I get great satisfaction thinking that I may play a small part in helping them reach their potential throughout their careers.”
CEO of South Sydney Juniors, Luke Curry, says the relationship between the Juniors and the District Club has never been stronger.
“The relationship between the two organisations has certainly strengthened and I believe it’s stronger than ever. Really, you could say that we’re one club,” Mr Curry said.
“The relationships at all levels have never been better and guys like ‘Kingy’ are the conduit on the football side of things.
“The things that Madge is doing with the senior teams are certainly filtering down through Kingy. That’s very noticeable.
“Our junior representative and high performance squads are operating at new levels, which is a positive for everyone involved in Rugby League in South Sydney.”
Mr Curry paid tribute to Wes Guthrie who has been working tirelessly with the Juniors for a number of years.
“Wes Guthrie has been an unbelievable resource for us,” Mr Curry explained.
“He joined us six years ago and works in strength and conditioning as well as coaching and he is a big asset for us.
“He started when guys like Alex Johnston were coming through the grades and he keeps helping to produce top line players alongside people like Kingy and our junior coaches.”
Mr Curry gets the same satisfaction as King when seeing the junior players achieve great things in their careers.
“It’s awesome, to be honest,” Mr Curry said.
“We take pride in seeing all of our juniors reach the first grade level, whether it be at Souths or other clubs.
“These guys are playing at the highest levels of the game and it’s a real tribute to the work being done by the Juniors and the District Club.
“It’s a feather in the cap for everyone involved.”