In his first training session as a bona fide Maroon, the reminders of the path he took on his way to his State of Origin debut were everywhere for Christian Welch.
The Maroons trained at Langlands Park, the home of the Easts Tigers, the club where he made a name for himself after his family moved to Brisbane after spending his early years in firstly Townsville, then Gladstone.
The ground is also in the shadows of his former school – Villanova College – and there were a number of current students who came to the session specifically to wish him luck, and, to grab a photo or two with the famous alumni.
Villanova Year 9 student Lachlan Bremner was one of 15 of students who came dressed in their uniforms during their school holidays to meet Welch and he said it was exciting to be able to see the Melbourne Storm star forward in action.
“We are here mostly to watch Christian, Villa boy,” Lachlan said.
“(We know all about Christian’s time at the school) he was a college leader, a college captain, he made firsts.
“(He is a good example and shows that) if you work hard, you can get there.
“Off the field too, if you get the academics right, you can go on an achieve anything.”
While he is himself a North Queensland Cowboys fan, Lachlan, who plays lock in both rugby league and rugby union, praised the inclusion of Welch in the Queensland team for the decider.
“We’d like to watch the Maroons win Game III ... he will make a difference to the team, he will make a big impact," Lachlan said.
Welch was touched to see the group of students make their way to the field to watch the training session.
“It was amazing (to see the support from the students); very proud of my former school Villanova College, I love that school and I love the people that are there and obviously I wouldn’t be here today without going through that college and learning the life lessons,” Welch said.
“I am a very proud Villanova Old Boy and it was a really special moment to see a bunch of Villa boys and some (former) teachers and some mentors, who are very close to me still to this day.
“They have actually just launched rugby league in the AIC (Associated Independent Colleges) competition, and I think they have their first game next term, really exciting time for them.”
It was pretty tough' - Christian Welch
When asked about his standing as a role model, Welch simply said he had been shaped by his upbringing, including the lessons learned at school.
“I think I can be an example, but the best thing about Villanova is that it’s not about scholarships and producing NRL players, it’s about developing good people and chasing your interests; whether it’s music, drama or sport,” Welch said.
“It’s about whatever interests you have, it’s not about producing OP 1s or sports stars; it’s about being the best person you can be and be a good person, and I think that’s really held me in good stead.”
Match: Blues v Maroons
Game 3 -
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
The Queensland Maroons face off against New South Wales next Wednesday night, July 10, at ANZ Stadium.