Two new Wallabies benefited from club rugby development
By Sam Ryan
No two Wallabies players deserved to hear their names called last night more so than Brendon Paenga-Amosa and Tom Banks.
The pair were two of five uncapped players named in Michael Cheika’s 32-man squad to face Ireland in the upcoming June Test series, and they both earned their spot the hard way.
In the era of the “18-year old superstar”, Paenga-Amosa and Banks are rarities and both spent several years toiling away in club rugby before earning a Super Rugby contract and eventually a spot in Cheika’s squad.
Are they outliers?
Or are they products of club rugby and a development pathway that rewards players when they are actually ready to be rewarded?
Paenga Amosa came through Sydney’s public school system.
While he showed promise as a schoolboy, others were selected ahead of him and after finishing school and shifting from flanker to hooker, he joined local club Southern Districts and played colts.
This gave Paenga-Amosa time to grow and develop his game and within a year or two, he was starting at No.2 for the Rebels first grade side.
By late last year, he was arguably the most dangerous forward in the Shute Shield competition and led Souths on a nine match winning streak.
Following the 2017 club season, Paenga-Amosa joined the NSW Country Eagles NRC side and finally caught the attention of Super Rugby scouts.
At 22, he had a short stint in Melbourne with the Rebels before signing with the Reds late last year.
Immediately, he impressed Brad Thorn and on the back of his first full professional preseason, a bigger, stronger and more mature Paenga-Amosa started at hooker in the Reds opening Super Rugby clash this year and hasn’t looked back since.
Banks has a similar story.
He represented Queensland at schoolboy level, then joined UQ after finishing school and spent three years playing Premier Colts then Grade in Brisbane.
By 2016, Banks was near untouchable at club level and although he had spend time in the Reds wider training squad and made his debut a year earlier, he was picked up by the Brumbies ahead of the 2017 season.
By now, most people have seen Banks’ highlights from the weekend, so enough said.
Not only do both journeys highlight the importance and value of playing competitive club rugby at a young age, but it also proves something that seems blatantly obvious to most.
The majority of players are not ready to play Super Rugby when they are 19.
So why do our Super Rugby clubs keep signing kids out of school?
The typical cycle goes something like this.
A promising schoolboy links with an agent before they turn 18. If they play Australian Schoolboys, the agent shops his new product around to the Super Rugby clubs and threatens to take his player to league if he isn’t signed.
So the 18-year old is offered a training or supplementary contract by a Super Rugby club and everything seems rosy.
Problem is, when their one or two year deal finishes, the 20 or 21 year old “professional” rugby player now needs another contract.
Unless they’ve played their way into a Super Rugby starting side, they’re more often than not replaced by a carbon copy of themselves, who just happens to be a year or two younger.
And those that are thrown into the Super Rugby shark tank just months after growing chest hair, typically struggle.
So their contract isn’t renewed and they head overseas.
A state or national academy can fix a lot of these issues and from all reports, there is plenty of work underway behind the scenes to make that a reality.
But I think a change in mentality, on both fronts, is also important.
A lot has changed since the days when you could watch 10 Wallabies play in a Shute Shield match at Coogee Oval on a Saturday afternoon.
But Australian rugby wasn’t exactly struggling back then either.
Our Super Rugby clubs need to stop searching for the next big thing and give players time to develop.
Jake McIntyre in Brisbane and Dave Horwitz in Sydney are the two best examples of that. Both players are incredibly talented and hopefully still have a big future in Australian rugby.
But after signing professional contracts straight out of school, they’ve both left to play overseas not long after their 23rd birthdays.
Our young players also need to realise that they won’t play their best rugby until they are at least 24 or 25 and that patience might be the most vital tool they’ll use in their Australian rugby career.
Again, an academy can fill a void here and hopefully that will come soon.
But with Paenga-Amosa and Banks comes hope.
And if the strength of the Shute Shield and Premier Rugby competitions this year is anything to go by, there could be a few others that follow in their footsteps.