The burgeoning development and pathways partnership between Canterbury Rugby League and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs is already reaping dividends for the club’s SG Ball side – as well as two talented tyros from our region who are taking an opportunity in Sydney with both hands.

The Bulldogs have navigated a tough early-season draw in the NSWRL under-19s competition to notch a win, a draw and a loss from three outings, with Hornby second-rower Sosaia Alatini and Linwood winger Chelden Hayward playing a significant role in the team’s promising start.

The 17-year-old housemates are among the youngest players in the squad but are making their mark. Alatini bagged a match-winning double as the Bulldogs rallied from 16-0 down to beat Newcastle Knights 28-26 in Round 2. Hayward opened his tryscoring account in that game and backed it up with an early four-pointer in last Saturday’s 22-all draw with Penrith Panthers.

Bulldogs SG Ball teammates Chelden Hayward (left) and Sosaia Alatini.

Alatini is in his second season in the Bulldogs’ junior ranks, featuring in last season’s Harold Matthews Cup (under-17s) title success alongside Northern Bulldogs product – and fellow 2024 SG Ball squad member – Bronson Reuben under the coaching of ex-Halswell stalwart Shannon Rushworth.

Canterbury age-group rep Hayward was selected in the centres in the NZRL National Secondary Schools squad after starring in St Thomas of Canterbury College’s landmark tournament win last September.

“I’m loving the experience, loving the culture and the footy over here,” Hayward says.

“It’s a lot different here – the performance and footy style is different, it’s a lot faster. I wouldn’t say it’s more physical, but it’s faster and smarter. You’ve got to be pretty switched on to get to where you want to go.”

The SG Ball squad trains three times a week for roughly three hours per session – a demanding learning curve designed to prepare young players for the realities of fulltime professional football.

“It’s been a big step up from back home,” Hayward admits.

“The expectations here are pretty high, you’ve got to be switched on, training’s a lot harder and faster as well, and the drills are a lot more competitive.”

A member of the New Zealand Bulldogs Academy since early-2023 along with Keas clubmate Genesis Sherlock, the three-quarter line flyer has taken the temporary shift to Sydney in his stride so far.

Hayward will return to Christchurch at the end of the SG Ball campaign in April to finish school and play the local rugby league season – but he’s already looking forward to making his way back over the Tasman in November for pre-season training.

The inclusive and supportive culture at the club has made the transition immeasurably easier.

“It’s my first time away from home, but I’m coping with it – I haven’t had any issues so far. I love Sydney, it’s a big place. But I love the footy side of it mostly.

“The boys here are very welcoming. In my first trial match, I did pretty good and they were real supportive – when you chuck on that Dogs jersey they’ve got your back and that’s what I love about it.

“When you get on the field they’ve always got your back, they’ll always support you. They’re good blokes at training too and they’re good guys to be around.

“It’s definitely made me want to push that dream to the NRL. If I keep doing what I’m doing now – play good, train hard, work hard, doing all the little things right and create good habits – I think I can get to where I want to be.”

Alatini, meanwhile, will remain at the Bulldogs after the SG Ball campaign wraps up to train with the Jersey Flegg squad and attempt to earn some game-time in the under-21s.

While he’s at ease with his Sydney surroundings after almost 18 months away from home, the dynamic forward opened up on how tough it was to weigh up the massive opportunity at the Bulldogs against leaving his family.

“When the club asked me to move over here, it was a tough conversation for me and my family,” Alatini recalls.

“It was a big sacrifice for me, but we sat down with my parents and talked about me leaving and they said there’s going to be a lot of [challenges] in life you’ll have to face to be able to achieve the things you want to.

“It’s hard, moving out by yourself and leaving your parents in a different country, and once you move to Australia you’re basically looking after yourself – mum and dad can’t do anything for you.

“The expectations of the club, they have high values – not just on the field but off the field. It’s always club first, team second and individual third.”


The decision is certainly paying off, however, and getting a grounding in 2023 has held him in good stead in the highly competitive rigours of the SG Ball engine-room this year.

“It’s my second season and I feel more comfortable and prepared,” he affirms.

“In Harold Matts, the contact and the speed was alright, but it’s a whole different bump up [to SG Ball] – it’s under-17s to under-19s.

“I’m a young SG Ball player and the contact is heavy and the pace of the game is really fast. It’s a whole other level.

Alatini also praised the influence and support of Rushworth, who currently has the Bulldogs’ Harold Matthews Cup team running unbeaten at the top of the table in their quest for back-to-back titles.

“When I first moved over here, he messaged me and said, ‘we’re from the same area, if you need anything I’m only a message away’.

“He coached our team to winning the [competition] and he’s always there for me – even now that I’m in SG [Ball], he’s always there watching us and giving me some feedback.

“He had a big impact on my development last year and also this year.”

Bulldogs Harold Matthew Cup coach Shannon Rushworth (centre) with Sosaia Alatini (left) and Bronson Reuben (right) after the 2023 grand final.

The Bulldogs’ SG Ball season continues on Sunday with a trip south to Queanbeyan to take on Canberra Raiders.

Follow the progress of Chelden, Sosaia and a host of other Canterbury Rugby League juniors featuring in NSWRL and QRL competitions via the weekly ‘Red and Black Report’.

2024-02-20 09_33_45-CheldenHaywardandSosaiaAlatini.jpg ‎- Photos
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