THIRTY-two young hopefuls have taken their first step to becoming an Ipswich rugby league star.
Trialing for the Ipswich Jets Mal Meninga squad on Saturday, St Peter Claver High School teacher Todd Riggs cast his eye over the promising youngsters.
An experienced campaigner himself, the new under-20's coach knows exactly what it takes to be a true Ipswich Jet.
"We were looking for the Jets number one attribute which is a willingness to compete,” he said. "It was a hot day on Saturday and some of these guys hadn't played football in a while but that was still the key.
"We put them through the paces and were looking for the guys who could run aggressively and show that they could defend.”
More than 70 players nominated to attend Saturday's trials with representatives from each of the Ipswich Rugby League clubs and local schools.
With help from Manager of Rugby League Ipswich Brendon Lindsay, each player was vetted to make sure they were true local juniors. Of the 70 who nominated, 32 were picked to join the Ipswich Jets initial squad for pre-season training.
"We put them into two bigger squads and played an initial game,” Riggs said. "Then we picked a few to come up and play the second game which was a combination of possibles and probables. Between the clubs and schools we made sure everyone knew about the trial and almost everyone who nominated turned up. It all ran very smoothly and now we have a squad of 32 players who will go through the process of working that down to 25.”
Next year Queensland Rugby League will introduce a number of changes to the junior pathways system.
The Mal Meninga and U20s competitions will be integrated into the Intrust Super Cup competition with the junior teams to follow along with the seniors.
The restructure adopts a state-wide focus and is a critical undertaking as the game prepares for the disbandment of the current NYC format in 2018.
One of the main reasons for the changes is to encourage young rugby league players to stay closer to home during their school years. With the Cyril Connell Cup to be replaced by the State Junior Championships in June, QRL Head of Football Neil Wharton said the focus would turn to expanding the new state-wide competitions instead.
"We're pleased with the framework already in place for next year,” Wharton said.
"Player welfare is a priority, which is why we're proud of the fact that our young talent will have the opportunity to represent their region without having to move away from home.”
Well aware of the strains placed on young athletes in the current system, Riggs was excited to see the new developments focus on retaining talent at home.
"That is the Jets philosophy,” he said. "We want local Ipswich juniors which is why we didn't allow people from other clubs to come in a trial with us.
"We want to develop Ipswich players. There's enough talent in Ipswich without going down the recruitment path.”
There is a long way to go until next season's draw is released but Riggs is hoping to see all four Ipswich Jets teams sticking together on game day.
"I can think of nothing better than playing with all four grades on the same day,” he said. "Especially when you get all four with a win those are special days.
"The Mal Meninga guys will be training with the senior players and will get to see how they train and play on game day. Now that the program is back with the Jets these guys have a clear view of the whole pathway ahead of them.”
A month of pre-season training now awaits the 32 players selected on the weekend. The squad will train three nights per week and Saturday mornings at Len Johnson Oval.
Confident in the stock of talent, Riggs encouraged the players to be prepared.
"The big thing is they now have a month to keep themselves in good nick,” he said.
"They need to look after themselves and come to pre-season with training under their belts.”
Players selected in the Ipswich Jets Mal Meninga training squad for 2017: Henry Ara, Brian Burton, Tmax Dixon, Sione Feáo, Tausaga Foaí, Mana Fox-Swney, Sinbad Fruean, Bernetti Graf, Brayden Hall, Cody Hazard, Nicholas Hull, Anthony Itiri, Frank Kuresa, Monson Lang Sui, Wilson MalaEsclia, Trent Manihera-Paul, Folau Matangi, Nicholas Nelu, Luke Peel, Lachlan Postle, Brandon Russell, Mike Sau, AJ Sausoo, Adam Smidt, Luke Sorensen, Treymain Spry, Dion Tavita-Matavale, Lochlan Turnbull, John Vairoa, Sagalimu(junior) Vaitai, Regan Wilde, Tommy Wolf.