How easy would it be to board the Dylan Brown hype train? After the praise for his debut season, and the accolades for what he’s produced in 2020, some would suggest that the locomotive has already departed the station with no evidence of social distancing from its passengers.
In a recent article by Andrew Webster in the Sydney Morning Herald, Dylan Brown even addressed the hype himself.
“I just feel like I’ve got so much more to learn,” Brown says. “There’s been plenty of hype around my name and me having to live up to that. It’s added pressure. Confidence is something that I have to work on. But I’m pretty chill.”
NRL hype was something that the young Kiwi had to learn the hard way when rumours of the Warriors chasing him with million dollar contracts first surfaced during the 2019 preseason. With his social media accounts going into meltdown, and the media jumping all over a typical Dylbags throw-away line, it was an interesting introduction to the big time for a teenager yet to play his first game in the top grade.
So, despite this post slotting firmly into the good news category, I’d argue against any hype train classification. And the reason is simple.
The Cumberland Throw doesn’t need to hype Dylan Brown. We’ve been watching and reporting on his performances since he first pulled on an Eels jersey in the 2016 Harold Matthews competition.
In fact, you can find Forty20’s footage of his first game here
Given our history, this post will retrace his journey with the club, almost to the day that Anthony Field first secured his signature for the Eels. Brown’s talent is now there for all to see, but his journey has sometimes been jumbled in media recounts.
Growing up playing union, Brown was a relative newcomer to rugby league when he was one of a number of Kiwis invited to Parramatta’s Junior Rep trials by Daniel Anderson. Field quickly recognised that this was a talent that would go far, and contracted him to the Eels. Accommodation in the “Parra House” for the next three years would help his relocation.
Success soon followed.
Dylan was yet to turn 16 when he featured in the victorious Eels 2016 Harold Matthews team. He was still 16 years old when he sang the team song on grand final day in the winning 2017 under 18s S G Ball team. Across those seasons, he never played in a losing team.
Elevated to NYC as soon as he turned 17, another grand final appearance awaited. A dilemma suddenly emerged. Strong form in the Australian Schools Championships saw Brown rewarded with a Green and Gold jersey. A trip to play against New Zealand clashed with the NYC Grand Final. Brown chose to remain with his Eels team.
Unfortunately the Eels were beaten in the last seconds by the Sea Eagles in that Grand Final. Dyl certainly could hold his head up after his performance.
With Brown backing up for the 2018 NYC season, the team again featured in the Top 8. However, there were bigger plans for the young playmaker, and this saw him elevated to Wenty’s NSW Cup side for the final five games of the season. Incidentally, the struggling Magpies won three of those games, only going down to the top four placed Jets and Bulldogs.
The following key stat was revealed in Mitch Clarke’s Watchlist post later that year:
“In his 5 NSW Cup games this year, the young buck was asked to make 118 tackles (or 23.6 per game). For the sake of comparison, the combined total of the opposing halfbacks in those 5 games was 74 tackles (average 14.8)… Dylan only missed 8 tackles across the 5 games (or 1.6 a game); and for those playing along at home, the opposing 5 halfbacks in said games missed a combined total of 19 tackles (or 3.8 a game).”
Incidentally, that profile remains the most viewed post in the history of the Cumberland Throw.
In the opening minutes of Wenty’s final game of 2018, Brown suffered a nasty injury to a finger. It was fractured in multiple places, but the trainers thought it was dislocated. Those of us in the stands winced as much as the 18 year old should have as the trainers attempted to pop the broken finger into place.
An x-Ray later confirmed the extent of the damage – see image – but that damage did not deter him from a typically strong defensive display. The injury ultimately prevented him from playing in the NYC finals and the Eels bowed out in the first week. Talking to him at training in the week before the final, he stated that he wanted to play with his finger strapped. Fortunately his next appointment was the NRL pre-season.
One of the most repeated Dylan Brown stories is about his first day of NRL pre-season training, when he required hospitalisation after pushing beyond the point of exhaustion in attempting to run down Clint Gutherson over 2 kilometres in a camp at Armidale.
That happened, but it was not Dylan’s first day of pre-season training. In fact, the Eels had returned to Old Saleyards in the previous week and Brown’s first up efforts had already made his intent clear in the Friday session, as reported here.
Nonetheless, that Armidale camp was the portent of a big preseason and a key change in the Eels halves.
Despite the presence of both Norman and Moses throughout the pre-Christmas period, it was becoming increasingly obvious that Brown had stamped himself as a must select for Round 1. His elite conditioning results and composure during opposed sessions belied his youth and inexperience.
His debut, back injury, long rehabilitation and successful return to the field is well documented. We spoke to him during his rehab and boredom seemed to be a major adversary. He was buoyed by the coaches and staff emphasising that his long term well-being was of paramount importance and that his rehabilitation could not be rushed.
To the present, and by now many supporters who follow his social media, or watch his podcast appearances, realise that Dylan marches to the beat of a different drum. The quirky sense of humour displayed in his posts has kept fans entertained during lock down.
Supporters who get to lower grades would also know another side of Dylan. Last year, when not required for NRL duties, you’d see him at a range of venues supporting his mates in both Jersey Flegg and Canterbury Cup. He’d even pitch in to carry gear.
And it’s not just family and friends that are important to Dylan. Giving back to the community has seen him helping out (along with Reed Mahoney) at Pass It On Clothing, as well as working with youngsters at What Ability. The latter is a carers organisation borne out of the work by Steve Dresler at Giant Steps School for students on the Autism spectrum. It links such students with professional and semi-professional athletes, and helps them to engage in positive lifestyle experiences.
To give one more insight into Dylan Brown, I wanted to share this anecdote. During 2019, a group of high school students were on an organised visit to Eels training. After training, a number of the players came over to say hello, sign some caps and take photos. After he spoke to the group, Dylan noticed that a couple of the kids were sitting away from the others. He went over to join them and stayed chatting with them for about 15 minutes, only leaving when he was required for other commitments.
I wasn’t privy to the conversation. He was probably just chilling with them. But that’s typical of him and it’s why I think that particular anecdote is so appropriate. The ultimate thing that Dylan can give is his time. And outside of football he finds that time to give to others.
Whether Dylan Brown scales great heights as an NRL player is yet to be seen. His talent and attitude certainly provides a solid foundation.
But when all is said and done, the club and the community are fortunate that this kid from across the ditch has made Parramatta his home.
Thanks to Dylan Brown, What Ability & Pass It On Clothing social media accounts for their images.