Surrounded by young men on the verge of joining the NRL, Nathaniel Neale and Nick Slyney are this week the wise men who know what selection in the XXXX Queensland Residents team represents and how it can shape careers.
Turning 29 within a couple of months of each other later this year, Neale and Slyney are the “old boys” of this year's Residents squad hoping to atone for last year's 30-16 defeat at the hands of the Intrust Super Premiership NSW Residents at Suzuki Stadium in Brisbane.
A look through the squad provides a parade of players hoping to use Residents selection to achieve bigger and better things in the game but for Neale and Slyney it is a moment to savour as they near the end of their careers.
Both Neale (Warriors) and Slyney (Cowboys) played in the NRL's inaugural Under 20s competition in 2008 and went on to play a handful of NRL games; their careers spent largely in the Intrust Super Cup in Queensland and also in London for Slyney.
Slyney made his NRL debut for the Cowboys in 2008 at 19 years of age, but would play just 11 games in the top grade over the space of five years for North Queensland and Brisbane before spending three seasons with the London Broncos.
“I was always 100% on with footy, but you just need to get away from it and have that balance" - Nick Slyney
Perusing the self-confident kids in camp this week he said the greatest piece of advice he could offer was to find a balance in life between footy and the real world.
“When I look back I probably didn't really have that balance,” Slyney said. “I didn't take it for granted, I always put in and didn't stuff up or anything, but sometimes you just need to get away from footy.
“I was always 100% on with footy, but you just need to get away from it and have that balance.
“When I went to England I became a bit more professional. I was full-time at the Broncs for the last couple of years before I went over to England and over there I knew in myself what I could do.
“It just comes with a bit of maturity and age, you realise what you can do and get that bit of self-belief.
“All these young fellas have got all the self-confidence in the world. They're not shy and they all know their ability, so they'll be all right.”
When Slyney was first selected for Queensland Residents in 2012, he played alongside the likes of Jarrod Wallace, Charlie Gubb and Jake Granville, all of whom have gone on to forge successful NRL careers.
A year later, Neale was selected in a Residents team that boasted Cody Walker, Curtis Rona and Tim Glasby and said playing in that company gave him the belief that he could in fact make it to the NRL himself.
“It was quite a big step. The rivalry and the game, it's a bit of a step up from our comp and probably the NSW comp,” said Neale, whose lone game for South Sydney came in Round 3, 2014 against the Wests Tigers.
“It's the best of the best playing each other so I would say it's pretty close to NRL.
“I'm nearly 10 years older than all of these boys. I think there’s only five over 25 in the team and how you have to act in camp and the professionalism in the camp is a good indication of what to expect at an NRL club.”
A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.
*Read the full article in this weekend’s Queensland Rugby League Game Day special edition programme – available at the gate this Sunday.