Two of the South Island’s brightest rugby league prospects have had a good taste of the big stage of the NRL after a week training and playing at the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles.

Jaedon Wellington, from the Hornby Panthers and Callum Donaldson, from the Waro Rakau club in Greymouth, spent a week on Sydney’s northern beaches training with Manly’s Harold Matthews (U16) squad with both invited to play in the Sea Eagles colours in the junior trial match against the Canterbury Bulldogs.

Jaedon said the Sydney trip was a wonderful first taste of the big stage and had given him an appetite for more of the same.

“This was a great experience and really has motivated to get out there and work hard to get to the top level,” said the young Hornby prop who captained the South Island under-15 squad.

The invitation for two 15-year-olds is a result of Manly’s commitment to play an annual home match in Christchurch and develop a relationship with the local rugby league. All expenses were funded through a charity auction at the gala dinner in the lead-up to the Sea Eagles’ first Christchurch fixture last June.

The Sea Eagles will play their second annual home match at Christchurch Stadium on March 30 and early bird tickets went on sale earlier this month.

The two young Kiwis started their stay at Brookvale with an introduction to Manly’s NRL stars squad and Jaedon was impressed how welcoming the big names were to the two lads from the South Island.

“They told us a bit about their own pathways and how they got to where they are and they were just really humble guys.”

The Manly under-16 team made the South Island visitors feel welcome as they worked through their training sessions.

“The boys hit the ground running,” said Manly Elite Pathways Manager Kristie Fulton. “They participated in all of our junior representative training sessions and capped off the week by representing the Sea Eagles in a trial match against Canterbury Bulldogs.”

Fulton said that the Harold Matts competition is comprised of the best Under 16s in New South Wales, “so we were delighted to give the boys a taste of the intensity of elite junior reps footy”.

In the trial match, Jaedon was pleased to discover that they did not look out of place among Sydney’s junior elite.

“I felt like we fitted in really well. It did not feel any different than playing a game in New Zealand, but everything was just a whole lot faster,” said Jaedon. “Playing the ball, pushing players off the ball, everything was just done a lot faster.”

With the higher pace of the game, Jaedon said the hot Sydney weather proved to be the biggest challenge. “It was really hot but I just tried to push through it and got one with doing my job”

Jaedon was grateful to Manly for the opportunity offered to him and his South Island team-mate from Greymouth and felt humbled how the club had opened their arms around the two New Zealanders.

Elite Pathways manager Fulton commended Jaedon and Callum for their efforts at training and the trial match.  “We wish them all the best with their rugby league and look forward to monitoring their progress as rugby league players.”

Jaedon said he was looking forward to catching up with the Manly players when they return to Christchurch for their second match against the New Zealand Warriors on March 30.

Early bird tickets can be ordered on the Ticketek website

Jaedon Wellington
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