Debutants have four unique and inspiring stories

Great stories and rugby league go hand in glove and when the Brisbane Broncos venture to Cronulla on Sunday their four club debutants all have tales that are as unique as they are fascinating.

The Broncos are in 14th position on the Telstra Premiership ladder and not where they want to be but with the club’s roster in flux, and injury and Origin impacting player availability, the trip to the Sharks has given opportunities to Herbie Farnworth, Xavier Coates, Keenan Palasia and Rhys Kennedy.

Coach Anthony Seibold said the quartet all boasted "great stories" and that is certainly the case when you dig into their backgrounds and respective journeys.

Herbie Farnworth

"He is a great story. Brian Foley who is a legend of rugby league in the UK is his uncle and he brought Herbie here as a 14-year-old for about six weeks to the Burleigh Bears," Seibold said.

"The Broncos signed him a few years ago and on days off, he is here with Brian doing extras. He is ready for the opportunity.

"Sometimes, you are hoping a player is ready but I know Herbie is ready. He has been dominant in Queensland Cup for Norths, he's an amazing story."

Amazing alright. Farnworth, who will play on the wing against the Sharks, was in the Manchester United junior system at the age of 10 and set for a career in soccer as a centre-midfielder or left wing.

Broncos winger Herbie Farnworth.
Broncos winger Herbie Farnworth. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

The allure of rugby league appealed to Farnworth and the influence of his uncle, Wigan Warriors' legendary former talent identifier and development coach Foley, was a magnet for the soccer prodigy.

In rural Lancashire the young Farnworth would train alongside Foley on the village green with six poles and practise his rugby league skills. Broncos talent scouts at Burleigh noticed Farnworth’s talents when he played for Wigan St Pat’s and in St Helens for Newton Storm and he wound up at the Broncos via the Bears.

The famous"six poles" are not just a thing of the past either. On Farnworth’s days off you will find the 19-year-old and Foley on the Broncos training field doing the same drills that they did back in England.

Those sessions have paid off this year and Farnworth has scored 12 tries in 11 games for Norths Devils in the Intrust Super Cup where his athleticism and speed have featured.

Foley, a former police officer, has moved to Brisbane to assist Farnworth with his transition. He presented his nephew with his debut jersey on Saturday at Brisbane HQ in what was a moment loaded with meaning and emotion. The Broncos will fly Foley to Sydney on Sunday so he can be on hand to witness Farnworth’s debut. It is fair to say that a prouder uncle you will not find.

Xavier Coates

Brisbane five-eighth Jake Turpin grinned when he told media on Friday that Coates’ teammates call him "little GI".

There is nothing little about the 18-year-old winger, who stands well over six feet tall, but there is more than a hint of Greg Inglis in the way he moves across the turf. Coates’ long range try for the Maroons under 18s against NSW at Suncorp Stadium recently confirmed Turpin’s assessment after he had done the same thing for Tweed Heads Seagulls against Illawarra Steelers with a 90m dash in the national under 18s final, beating eight players along the way.

Broncos coach Anthony Seibold puts teenage winger Xavier Coates through his paces.
Broncos coach Anthony Seibold puts teenage winger Xavier Coates through his paces. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

A PNG Test debut followed and now Coates will make his NRL debut for Brisbane on Sunday.

Seibold is aware of the Inglis comparisons, so what does he think?  

"There are some similarities, but I'd hate to compare Xavier to Greg. It's really early days," Seibold grinned.

"But the thing with Xavier is that every level he goes up to, he has been comfortable with. He did really well for PNG against Samoa a few weeks ago and we got Tweed to play him in a Queensland Cup game against the Pride last month and he scored a double on debut, so he has risen to the occasion every time. He is a smart young guy, really humble and we are proud of how he has progressed. We are excited by what he can bring."

One thing was clear at Broncos training on Friday and that is Coates can leap like Israel Folau in his pomp. Seibold had a pink swimming 'noodle' in his hands and was waving it in Coates’ vicinity as Sean O’Sullivan put up bombs for him to catch. It was hands on coaching to see if Coates would be put off, but he caught all the high balls with aplomb.

It is a remarkable rise for Coates after he attended Marymount College in Burleigh, not a noted rugby league school by any means. He played junior footy with the Currumbin Eagles alongside fellow 18-year-old Tom Dearden and a year out of school has followed in his footsteps.

"It's certainly the future with Herb and Xavier, no doubt about that," Seibold said.

"We have both of them under contract for another few years so we believe they will be first graders here. With Gehamat [Shibasaki] and Kotoni [Staggs], the guys are 20, 20, 19 and 18. Tom Dearden is out at the moment and he is 18 as well. Those guys are our future in the backline. You have seen our forwards and now we are bringing the backs through that can really make a stand."

Keenan Palasia

Two months ago 22-year-old forward Palasia started work in the Bank of Queensland after representing the Queensland Residents. Weeks later he was handing in his notice after securing a new deal with the Brisbane Broncos.

The mobile back-rower is a tribute to persistence and never giving up when all seems lost and will line up off the bench for Brisbane on Sunday for his NRL debut.

Broncos forward Keenan Palasia.
Broncos forward Keenan Palasia. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

Palasia was in the Broncos full-time system previously but missed out on a new contract after a train and trial deal finished earlier in the season.

Instead of kicking stones he secured himself a job and went back and played the house down for Wynnum-Manly in the Intrust Super Cup.

Several weeks back the Broncos offered Palasia a contract and now he gets to fulfil his childhood dream.

A Sonny-Bill Williams fan with Maori and Samoan heritage, Palasia is an outstanding line runner like Brisbane teammate Alex Glenn.

He has fought back from a raft of injuries including two knee surgeries and hand and ankle operations.

Palasia also a great example off the field where he was highly regarded for his work with David Shillington on the NRL State of Mind program.

"It was rewarding and I enjoyed every bit of it, and at some point I’d like to get back in that industry. It was all about mental health and reducing the stigma around mental health with grassroots clubs,” Palasia said.

"It was really good to help the next generation of rugby league players and give back to the community.

"The issue in mental health is young people feeling like that they are not able to speak about it and that it is a negative to talk about it, whether that be to parents or coaching staff.

"Now there are all these organisations that are trying to prove the opposite and that you can speak up, which is good.”

Rhys Kennedy

The 24-year-old journeyman front-rower has played two NRL games for South Sydney this year but now has his chance to show coach Seibold that he deserves to be a top team regular after joining Brisbane mid-season.

Kennedy wasn’t drafted into the NRL squad immediately on his arrival. He was given an assignment for Redcliffe against Sunshine Coast in the Intrust Super Cup and had a huge game to inspire he Dolphins to victory.

Seibold has a connection with Kennedy stretching back to his Storm days and said he had earned his club debut after taking time to mature.

"Rhys was always going to be a late bloomer. He was at the Melbourne Storm when he was 17 or 18 and I coached him for a few years there and he went to Canberra and then to Dragons and then South Sydney," Seibold said.

"Some front-rowers like Payne Haas and Tom Flegler develop really quickly but Rhys has grown into his body a bit. He reminds a lot of Nick Kenny who used to play at the Broncos, a real hard worker and quality guy who has made sacrifices to get an opportunity. I'm really proud of Rhys.”

Seibold is aware the challenge for his side is immense against the more experienced Sharks, although ‘Baby Broncos’ sides of the past have got the job done without their full complement of stars.

"There's no doubt the Sharks will be a big test, they have six ex-NSW representatives plus they have Shaun Johnson who is the current New Zealand halfback," Seibold said.

"It's great for our young guys. We have been doing it tough on the scoreboard the last three weeks but during tough times you have to persevere and we have 11 guys playing tomorrow who have played less then 25 NRL games, which is unusual but it's exciting as well.

“In 2002, the [Baby] Broncos went down and beat the Wests Tigers, but it's unfair to compare that group to this group. This group is the youngest team we have ever put on the park, that's a fact.

"It's the most inexperienced team we have ever put on the park and we are coming up against a Cronulla side who were a top four team last year and they have a full strength side other than Wade Graham and Fifita. It's a really different occasion but we draw on the legacy of the past. We go down with a free swing in a lot of ways."