YOU’LL be hard-pressed to find anyone prouder in the stands at PointsBet Stadium on Sunday than Brian Foley.
Brian’s nephew Herbie Farnworth will make his NRL debut for the Brisbane Broncos against the Cronulla Sharks.
A former Wigan Warriors development manager, Foley is regularly spotted around the Broncos' training facility at Red Hill and at Norths Devils’ home at Bishop Park.
He’s a huge supporter of Farnworth and loves his rugby league.
Foley has played a huge part in Farnworth’s development, but credited a creative imagination and six poles on a village green in northern England as the foundations for the 19-year-old’s rise to the NRL.
Herbie grew up in Blacko, in the north of England, surrounded by football, but loved rugby league like his uncle.
“The story began, really, that it was only him and I training on a village green with six poles,” Foley said.
“They were imaginary players and obstacles, and that’s why he’s clever with the footwork.
“That’s where the story began – in isolation, with six poles on a village green.”
Aged 14, Farnworth and Foley contacted some friends at Burleigh Bears and headed out to the Gold Coast. It was there the Broncos spotted him.
It’s not hard to see why – Farnworth is a superb athlete. He’s lightning quick, moves well and also recorded the best score at the Broncos in their pre season 1.2km endurance test.
He can transition comfortably between wing and centre and knows his role in the team.
He’s has been excellent since making his debut in the Intrust Super Cup for the Devils last year.
I knew then he was something special.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for him.
In his Cup debut in Round 1 last year Farnworth hurt his wrist. A sign that he’s tough enough to play in the NRL, he strapped it up and continued to play on with the pain. Scans later revealed he’d fractured it.
He returned to the field in Round 8 against Easts Tigers, but fractured it again and faced another nine weeks on the sidelines.
In his next appearance, in Round 18 against CQ Capras, he showed me he was destined for the NRL. He carried the ball strongly and scored a couple tries, including a 60-metre solo effort to help the Devils to a 42-12 win over the Capras.
He’s been great since his then and has taken his game to a new level in 2019.
Ten year ago, I made my NRL debut with the Broncos, fittingly, against the Sharks at Shark Park.
Much like Herbie, it was during the 2009 State of Origin series and the Broncos had a number of players in Origin camp.
Current Queensland Origin hooker Ben Hunt and Gold Coast Titans centre Dale Copley also made their NRL debuts for the Broncos that night.
I remember how excited I was when then coach Ivan Henjak told me the news.
I started on the bench and we were down by a reasonable margin at half time.
I remember thinking I just wanted to get out there.
Henjak took me aside at half time and told me I’d be on 10 minutes into the second half.
When I got out there I just tried to tackle everything and be in everything – much like many players do in first match in the top grade.
I was blown away by the pace.
Farnworth will be out there from the match kick-off and, on the back of some wise words from Foley, I’m sure he will be a lot cooler than I was.
He’s a confident young man and I have no doubts he’ll fit right in.
He’ll be focused on the small things, which make a big difference.
I’m sure he’ll follow in the footsteps of Hunt and Copley and play many more matches in the NRL.
It’s a big occasion, but he won’t be overawed.
“We just take each day,” Foley said.
“Herbie will just take it all in his stride.
“He begins a new chapter. Like going to Norths, it’s just a new chapter for him.”