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Opportunity knocks for Murri Under 16 players

It is a rivalry as intense as that between the Maroons and the Blues in the State of Origin arena.

Which is why the fact the Queensland Murri Under 16s have a Beetson in their side is just one reason they are confident of a strong performance against the NSW Koori Under 16s in Mudgee tomorrow (Saturday) night.

The showdown is the curtain raiser to the Charity Shield clash between St George Illawarra and the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

Jack Beetson, the grandson of the great Arthur Beetson, will line up at prop for the Murri side. There is a Thurston in the team as well, back-rower Jayden Thurston, who is no relation to Johnathan Thurston.

Jack Beetson will line up as prop for the interstate game. PHOTO: QRL Media / Jason O'Brien
Jack Beetson will line up as prop for the interstate game. PHOTO: QRL Media / Jason O'Brien

Murri coach Sam Reuben said the progress of Beetson in the last six months had been pleasing.

"There is a lot of unknown pressure on this kid, but he has developed really well since our tour of New Zealand last year," Reuben told

"Jack’s communication has built up and he is getting really aggressive. As you know with the Beetson family, they are a big breed and Jack is six foot four.

"He has added that aggression to his game because he realises that he needs to do the job in the engine room and own the middle third for everyone else to shine.

"Jack’s body structure is still developing, but if he puts his mind to it he can achieve anything he wants."

The team played as the Murri Under 15s last year and went undefeated on a tour of New Zealand in December where Beetson started at prop in all three matches.

Many of the players have travelled thousands of kilometres to be a part of the side. Winger Alan Motton comes from Weipa, a mining town on the Gulf of Carpentaria, and can run the 100m in under 11 seconds.

Gabriel Mooka in his Murri Under 16 jersey. PHOTO: QRL Media
Gabriel Mooka in his Murri Under 16 jersey. PHOTO: QRL Media

"And we also have front-rower Gabriel Mooka who travels by dinghy from an island near New Guinea to Horn Island in the Torres Strait, and then catches a plane down to Townsville where he is a boarder at school," Reuben said.

"Gabriel is stocky and reminds me of Martin Bella with his running style. He has great power and leg speed.

"This is a great opportunity for guys like Alan and Gabriel who are from remote communities and don't often get the opportunity to be seen.

"The fact that the QRL has jumped on board with this team has given them that opportunity."

Another player who is making the most of his opportunity is Thallis Halliday. 

Named as starting hooker for the side, he is one of nine South West Emus (representative team from the Murri Carnival) named in the side that he has wanted to be a part of side he was a much younger man.

His father Gary is the long-term manager of the side, and the young Halliday has worked to be named in the team since he was first deployed as a ball boy for the side years ago.  

Queensland Under 16 Murri team hooker Thallis Halliday. PHOTO: QRL Media
Queensland Under 16 Murri team hooker Thallis Halliday. PHOTO: QRL Media

Since the early days, the Murri Under 16s side has showcased outstanding talents, now NRL contracted players, in the past such as David Fifita, Gideon Gela-Mosby, Brenko Lee and Ash Taylor.

"It is not just a program about developing rugby league players, but also about developing an individual with communication, attitude and culture," Reuben said.

"When we went to New Zealand the Arthur Beetson Foundation found two cultural mentors who helped the boys develop their own dance. When the New Zealanders did the Haka, we had our dance to display in return.”

The standout players in the team are the halves Zac Laybutt and Reece Walsh (main image).

"Our two halves are our superstars because they make the ball float and sing on the field,” Reuben said.

"Zac Laybutt, the brother of Kyle Laybutt at the Cowboys, was our best player of the tour to New Zealand. He is a tall five-eighth much in the mould of Scott Hill when he played at the Melbourne Storm.

"Zac can stick the ball on anyone’s chest and has a fantastic kicking game.

"Reece is part of the QAS system already and gives us plenty of direction."

 The Koori lads won the clash last year by two points and the Murri boys are determined to reverse the result.

"The rivalry is just as fierce as Queensland v NSW in State of Origin,” Reuben said.

"That is what we always talk about in our team meetings because we don’t want to lose to NSW."

The team flew to Sydney and travelled by bus to Mudgee yesterday (Thursday) and on the way got to stop off and tour the Penrith Panthers facilities.

Reuben said the welcome the boys received from the Panthers was outstanding and much appreciated.

"Tyrone Peachey came out and had lunch with us and spoke about his community and Nathan Cleary shook all the boys' hands and spoke about being humble,” Reuben said.

“Nathan made the point that at any time, someone can replace you. The Penrith coach [Anthony Griffin] met us and spoke and all our boys were humbled by it.

“Glen Liddiard, the Aboriginal liaison officer for Penrith, organised it and it was a great experience for all of us.”

MURRI UNDER 16S: 1. Preston Weatherall 2. Carlos Smith 3. Watjerra Briggs 4. Isiah Kawane 5. Alan Motton 6. Zac Laybutt 7. Reece Walsh 8. Jack Beetson 9. Thallis Halliday 10. Nicholas Fenton 11. Tuvalli Pereira 12. Larson Dale-Doyle 13. Coby Fechner 14. Tyson Stevens 15. Ben McKellar 16. Gabriel Mooka 17. Daelan Rolls 18. Tate Roberts 19. Jayden Thurston

*This story by Joel Gould first appeared on