A good teammate always has your back - both on and off the field; and if it wasn’t for Tom Dearden, Queensland Maroons squad member Xavier Coates might have missed out on the biggest opportunity of his career to date.
Coates was spending time with friends when a phone call came through purporting to be from Maroons coach Kevin Walters, and despite his unbelievably rapid rise in the game so far, the Brisbane Broncos gun didn’t believe it.
“Kevie actually called me, but I thought it was a prank call at first – so I left it for 30 minutes,” Coates said.
“It came up as Kevie on the screen, but a couple of the boys do prank calls and stuff here and there, so I left it and then Tommy Dearden, my mate, said, ‘you actually want to pick it up, it’s Kevie wanting to talk to you’.
“And I was like, ‘no, you are gee-ing me up here’ and then I ended up just calling it, because if it was Kevie, then it was going to be good news, but if it’s not and it’s a prank call, there’s nothing much I can do about it.
“And I called it back and it ended up being Kevie and he told me the news and I was ecstatic, and all the boys were there, so it was a really good time.
“I would definitely regret it if I didn’t call.”
Coates joined in on a training session with the other southeast Queensland-based squad members on Monday, after initially missing out on the first squad sessions last week due to a pre-booked end-of-season holiday.
However, as soon as he found out he was part of the squad, the talented outside back made sure he was preparing to come into the pre-camp Origin sessions in great shape.
“My first session (with the other squad members) was Monday, and we did a bit of fitness there, I felt pretty good for the little break I had, it felt good coming back with all the boys, all the boys were welcoming,” Coates said.
“It’s a bit daunting coming into a first grade Origin squad, but all the boys are really welcoming.
“We are training well, and we are all bonding well together, so it’s good to be here.
“(My holiday) was really good … and (I) spoke to the coaches beforehand and they gave me programs to do up on the holiday … and everything was all sorted.”
Today’s field session at the home of the Wynnum Manly Seagulls at Kougari Oval was conducted under the instruction of Maroons staff Alex Corvo, Neil Henry and Walters, with a focus on speed, something Coates has become famous for.
However, the flyer said the forwards were giving the backs a run for their money.
“They (our training sessions) were both quite intense, even though this one was a speed session, it built in high intensity, so we were still blowing while we were training,” Coates said.
“The skills were quite hard, trying to keep the chat up while we were fatigued; it was a good learning experience for me, coming into this squad with some of the experience we have, so it’s very good to be here.
“The big boys can move as well, they are keeping up with us backs, so they are doing a really good job and they are fit as well, they are leading the fitness, they are not far behind us at all.”
A national under 18 title winner with Tweed Seagulls in 2019 – Coates has plenty of representative experience under his belt already despite his young age, having represented Queensland previously at the junior level in the Under 18 team.
Coates has also featured for the PNG Kumuls team in Test matches, but while rugby league is the main game for most Papua New Guineans, Coates did have to weigh up which sport he was going to play when he was a child.
“I was born over in PNG, my mum’s side is PNG, I was born in Port Moresby, but my mum is from Kerema in Gulf Province… I am from that area,” the Currumbin Eagles junior said.
“I came over when I was real young and started my footy, and I went back when I was young as well and a lot of my family are still over there in PNG, but I still get messages from them and there are a lot of fans over there because footy is the national sport over in PNG, so I am definitely getting a lot of positive comments from the PNG fans.
“They are backing me all the way, so I couldn’t be happier.
“My mum’s side played rugby league, but my dad’s side was a real big hockey family, so all my older brothers played hockey, so I didn’t know whether I wanted to do rugby league or hockey.
“But when I went to school, a heap of my mates were playing footy, so I was tossing between footy and hockey and I ended up picking rugby league and I never looked back.”
His dedication to the game sees him now on the cusp of a much dreamed about Maroons debut; but in the meantime, Coates said he was excited to soak up the camp experience and learn everything he could from the coaches and other players.
“It’s definitely happened really quick,” Coates said of his rise in the game.
“Last year I was playing in the 18s for Tweed, so it’s definitely happened a lot quicker than expected and I am stoked to be here.
"I just want to learn as much as I can in this camp and try to get to know all the boys because they are boys I looked up to when I was playing my junior footy, I was watching them on TV, so to be in a camp with them now learning from them, is the best experience in the world.
“I think I just want to learn how they prepare for the game, how they build their camaraderie within the camp and learn from this camp and bring it back to my club footy; I think that’s the main thing I want to learn… how the boys prepare for the game, how they conduct themselves.”