It’s been a steep learning curve for recent Warriors recruit Patrick Elia, who has been pitched into the Jersey Flegg Under-20s ranks less than two years after his first game of rugby league.

But the gifted 18-year-old centre – a First XV star for St Thomas’ of Canterbury before league scouts slipped under union’s guard – is holding his own against more seasoned players and relishing his move to Auckland.

“It’s quite physical and quite aggressive,” Elia says of the Jersey Flegg competition.

“There’s some pretty big 20-year-olds, and because I’m a young age my body’s still not quite right.

“I’ve just got to work hard, knuckle down and focus on the little things.”

Following the demise of the NYC after 10 seasons, the Warriors’ Under-20s now play in the Jersey Flegg, which effectively runs underneath the InTrust Super Premiership NSW reserve grade competition.

Elia has featured at centre in both matches to date this season – losses to North Sydney (24-16) and Canterbury (28-10) – and he admits the standard is taking some adjusting to after coming straight from domestic high school tournaments.

“It’s a massive step forward, but at the same time not too far ahead,” Elia explains.

“It’s more the pace of the game and how everything’s more structured. It’s that mindset and mentality that’s the big difference between the two.”

Former rugby union prodigy Elia was the subject of a code tug-of-war last year, signing a deal with the Warriors after also being courted by the North Queensland Cowboys, before the Crusaders named him in their Under-18s side.

But Elia followed a growing trend of promising Canterbury youngsters with a strong rugby union background choosing rugby league, including burgeoning front-rower Cruz Topai-Aveai, who has played Under-20s for South Sydney and Cronulla after taking out the rugby union UC Championship MVP award in 2016.

After a strong campaign for St Thomas’ at the 2017 NZRL National Secondary Schools Tournament, Elia represented the New Zealand Secondary Schools side against NSW Combined High Schools – and there’s no regrets about choosing the league path.

“So far, so good,” he says.

“I’m slowly progressing and still learning. I haven’t quite reached the level that I want to but I’m thankful the Warriors have given me the chance to step up and get some game-time.

“The Warriors are developing me and I’m starting to feel it mentally and physically. I’m excited for what the future holds for me at the Warriors.

“This place is a high-performance centre in itself. They’ve got some great people coaching us as well, Jerome (Ropati) and Ricky (Henry), and at the club there’s some experienced players that teach the young guys a lot.”

Often the biggest challenge for young recruits is adjusting to life in a new city away from home for the first time, just months out of high school.

But Elia is settling in nicely thanks to Warriors Autex House, which the club has set up specifically to ensure the most seamless transition possible for their out-of-town tyros.

He shares the house with several Under-20s teammates, as well as NRL-contracted players Hayze Perham, Junior Pauga and recent arrival from the Gold Coast Titans, Karl Lawton.

“I was born and raised in Christchurch so it’s a massive step to come up to Auckland,” Elia says.

“It’s a busy city, a lot of people but I’ve found the transition quite easy staying at Warriors House.

“That kind of makes me feel like I’m at home, staying with the boys. It’s always loud in the house, which is a good feeling to have.”

There’s a few familiar faces around as well, with fellow Cantabrian Graeme Patu-Vaega’au also in the Jersey Flegg squad (he is yet to debut). Elia’s St Thomas’ teammate, talented forward Seth Tauamiti, trained with the Warriors over the summer but is currently recuperating from injury.

Meanwhile, Canterbury juniors Daniel Sakisi and Sua Aiiloilo were try-scorers in the Bulldogs’ Flegg win over the Warriors at Mount Smart Stadium last weekend.

But home, family and where he got his start in rugby league is never too far from Elia’s thoughts.

He revealed St Thomas’, Linwood Keas and Rockcote Canterbury Bulls coach Andrew Auimatagi has had a big influence on his brief rugby league journey.

“Andrew coached me and taught me a lot around the how the footy side of things work, the off-field stuff, welfare and player wellbeing and all of that.”

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