Two of the South Island’s brightest rugby league prospects, Jaedon Wellington and Callum Donaldson, are this week getting a unique taste of the NRL during a week-long camp at the Manly Sea Eagles.
The invitation to come to Manly’s training base on Sydney’s northern beaches is the direct result of the club’s commitment to play an annual home match in Christchurch and to build a strong relationship with the local rugby league community.
The Sea Eagles will play their second annual home match at Christchurch Stadium on March 30 and early bird tickets went on sale last week.
Jaedon Wellington is a genuine rising star in New Zealand rugby league, captaining the Under-15 South Island team at the national championships last month and was named in the NZ Merit team.
The young Hornby Panthers prop was joined by Callum Donaldson from Greymouth, who was also part of the same Under 15 South Island team.
The second rower from the Waro Rakau club was unlucky to miss out on the NZ Merit team, but will have a great opportunity at Manly to show that he is ready to step up to another level.
Leading Canterbury rugby league coach and talent scout Jeff Whittaker says that the two players are among the best young talents to come out of the South Island and says that the NRL is taking notice that the South Island is a wonderful talent breeding ground.
Whitaker took Jamayne Isaako from the Aranui Eagles to the Cronulla youth team five years ago and last season the Brisbane Broncos star was named NRL Rookie of the Year.
“Every year the South Island produces three or four youngsters who are good enough to have a crack at the NRL, so the scouts come out in force,” says Whitaker, who emphasises that the vision of Justin Wallace, the event manager behind the Manly partnership, has done wonders to promote rugby league in Canterbury.
“It is pretty hard to compete with the success of the Crusaders but with Manly visiting all the schools and clubs they are providing a great service to our game.”
Justin Wallace says that the visit to Manly by Jaedon and Callum is one of the many tangible benefits the Canterbury sports community is getting from the relationship.
“Manly’s commitment to Christchurch brings NRL stars to our schools and clubs and creates a pathway for young talents to one of the most iconic clubs in Australia.”
All expenses for the two players have been paid for thanks to a successful charity auction at this year’s gala dinner in the lead up to Manly’s first home game against the Warriors in Christchurch.
Before he hopped on the plane on Sunday, Jaedon Wellington spoke of his excitement of taking a look in the Manly organisation and hoped his nerves would not get in the way of showing his skills. “I am just grateful for this amazing opportunity and will be trying to take away as much as I can,” said Jaedon.
Upon arriving at the Sea Eagles on Monday, the two young South Islanders met the coaching staff before observing the Manly NRL squad’s training sessions, both on and off the field. Jaedon and Callum then took part in a gym session with Manly’s Harold Matthews (U16) squad later in the afternoon.
Jaedon and Callum again took part in a field session with the Harold Matthews squad on Tuesday and had another a field session with the Harold Matthews squad on Wednesday.
Should they prove their mettle, the boys hope to be picked for a junior rep trial match against the Canterbury Bulldogs on Friday.
Manly will meet the New Zealand Warriors on March 30 and the most affordable early bird tickets can be ordered on the Ticketek website.