Every year, squads of talented young junior footballers vie for final positions in junior representative teams. Often, many of these young players have been part of junior talent squads before advancing to these teams. Some have been brought to an NRL club from country towns, interstate or New Zealand. These young blokes have all put themselves on the path to grade football and the NRL, yet the vast majority will never make it.
Naturally a numbers game applies here. This constant turn over of players through their age groups could never be accommodated in an NRL roster. Only the absolute elite carve out a first grade career, which means that large numbers of players fall out of the system at every level.
There’s also the question of players being early maturers and dominating age football through physical superiority. If there’s no superiority relating to football skills, then when the physical differences even out, these players come back to the field. This is perhaps the reason for Parramatta dominating Matts and Ball but failing to make an impact at NYC level.
You then have the question of whether the right players have been identified or whether the best development systems exist at a club. There’s been plenty of examples of Parramatta juniors getting a start at other clubs, either in grade football or junior rep teams. Penrith also suffer the same fate. NRL clubs not blessed with their own junior talent look to recruit from their rivals and they are signing players to significant contracts at younger and younger ages. The Eels will always lose players in this way.
Through Brad Arthur, Anthony Field and our Junior Football coaches and staff, the Eels have remodelled and improved our junior talent identification and player development programs. You can’t keep everyone – money talks and sometimes ridiculously so – but we can do our best to keep as many as we can and turn them into the best footballers and people that they can be.
Its not my intention to look at this subject in any depth here – our resident Junior Rep expert, Forty20, is best served for exploring this topic. Forty and I plan to get out to some of the junior rep trials this weekend and I’m sure that he’ll be casting his eye over some of the hopefuls.
I offer these few thoughts as I publish the program below from 1993. If you look through both the Parramatta and Canberra team listings, you will see very few future first graders. It’s probably only the Eels SG Ball team that could boast a couple of future NRL players in the one team. See how many you can spot – there’s one or two scattered there.