Club Rugby experiences driving Fraser McReight towards Junior World Cup and beyond
Junior Wallabies captain Fraser McReight believes his experiences at Brisbane Premier Rugby club Brothers has helped fastback his journey to a Super Rugby debut and a second straight Junior World Cup.
McReight was the pick of the Australians and one of the form players at last year’s annual tournament, but said it was time spent a year earlier in an experienced Brothers outfit that built the foundations for his later success.
“Academies are great and they do help you develop because you’re training with guys at a similar level to you but you don’t get a lot of game time,” McReight told Rugby News.
“That’s where I was lucky to be able to go back to club and play in a really good colts side in 2017 at Brothers and then eventually make my Premier grade debut.
“Brothers had won the comp the year before, so being able to come into a side like that with so many great leaders, it was fantastic plus it was just good to just play footy week in, week out.
“You’re able to learn on the field, rather than just training the whole time and playing games every month or so.”
It’s been widely reported that McReight’s rugby journey began as a 15-year old in the centres, but the 20-year old said that was a long way from the truth.
“I started playing when I was four because Mum and Dad thought I had too much energy.
“I played at Albany Creek Juniors until I was 14 and then I went to Brisbane Grammar. I always played No.8 but then I got a chance to play first XV in the centres when I was 15 so I started there but then ended up in the back row after a few games.
In 2015, McReight was picked in the Combined States Barbarians side that played at the Australian Schools Championships and also spent time in the Queensland Junior Sevens program.
“I think everything sort of came together in my last year of school in 2016 though,” he said.
“I’d been playing as a No.8 but then got picked for GPS and QLD Schools at No.7 and that was really the first time I’d played there.”
McReight went on to represent the Australian Schoolboys as an on the ball No.7 in 2016 and joined Brothers after finishing school a year later.
“In 2017, I probably didn’t know if I was good enough to play Premier Rugby yet and it was hard to know where I was at with my rugby. But then working my way into the Premier side gave me a lot of confidence.
“You learn a lot playing against men. In colts, you kind of feel like you need to do everything, whereas when I came into grade, guys like Teddy Postal and Nathanial Gentle really drove into me that you just need to focus on your job and do that well for the team.
“I think I gained a lot of experience and learnt a lot about leadership from those guys and I’d like to think I took that with me into the Junior Wallabies.”
A string on injuries kept McReight off the field for a number of months and the No.7 didn’t play again until last year’s Junior World Cup.
As a 19-year old, McReight was a standout and while Australia fell short in two close losses to Wales and New Zealand, the Junior Wallabies won their final two matches to finish fifth and McRight was named Australian player of the tournament.
“We had some really good systems in place which meant I was able to just play on the ball and roam around the field in attack and that’s the way I love to play,” he said.
“It was disappointing to lose those games but we were a fairly young side last year, which gives us a lot of confidence going forward.”
The 2019 Junior Wallabies began their World Cup preparations with wins over Japan and Fiji on the Gold Coast and play New Zealand on Saturday night ahead of June’s World Cup.
McReight, who made his Super Rugby debut earlier this year, says he’s in the best shape of his life after losing his “puppy fat” during what he described as his first real preseason and said he’s confident about the Junior Wallabies chances in Argentina.
“We’ve got 10-12 boys back from last year, plus a lot of guys who are in a Super Rugby program in some capacity.
“But I think more importantly, we’ve spent a lot of time together already and we’re a really tight group of mates. We want to spend as much time together as possible and I think you’ll see that when we play.
“We’ve got a tough pool, but I think if we play our footy and stick to the game plan, we can do anything over there.”
Australia have traditionally struggled at the under 20s tournament, but McReight said he thinks changes to the junior programs will make a big difference.
A wider Junior Wallabies squad was picked from a national U19s tournament that was played in 2018, giving selectors and coaches more time to identify and work with Australia’s best young talent.
McReight said he’s already seen the difference but said it was vital that the Junior Wallabies perform well at next month’s tournament.
“I think it would show that Australian rugby is on the right track. There’s been a lot of changes in our junior programs over the last few years but I think we’ve got it right this time and if we can be successful overseas, it’ll show the rest of the rugby community that.
“It’s not just about making Aussie Schoolboys anymore. Guys who miss out can go and play a year of two in club rugby and then if they’re good enough, they’ll get picked in the wider Australian U20s squad and go from there.”
While McReight said his focus is firmly on the Junior Wallabies and the World Cup in Argentina, he said he’ll be keeping one eye on his club side Brothers, who have started the year with five straight wins.
“There are a few Brothers’ boys in the squad so it’s been nice to have some bragging rights over the guys from the other clubs because we haven’t had much of that over the last few years,” he said.
“We’ve been talking about it a lot and we all really want to be part of a Brothers team that plays and hopefully wins a grand final, we can’t wait to get back there later this year.”