Mini Maroons is the weekly round-up of the amazing things kids are doing in community rugby league.
This week we are celebrating a Mackay boy chasing his NRL dreams, a Yeppoon girl on a try-scoring blitz, and the kids of Deadly Choices making an impact across the South East corner.
Ever since he started playing rugby league in under 6s, Bailey Anderson has earned himself a reputation as a “tackling machine”.
Now the 16-year-old Mackay boy is looking to build the reputation of his rugby league prowess even further, after he signed a three-year contract with the Melbourne Storm.
Currently playing for the Souths Junior Sharks, Bailey was approached by former Queensland Maroons forward and Storm recruitment officer and pathways manager, Tim Glasby, after a successful season with the Mackay Cutters Cyril Connell side.
His mum, Simone Anderson, said Bailey has never been one to make representative sides and while he did have stints with the Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys academies, no further opportunities arose.
The approach from Melbourne came out of the blue but was a welcome surprise for the young winger and his family.
“It came out of nowhere,” she said.
“Tim phoned Bailey and asked if he had a manager, which we thought was quite funny. He said, ‘no, but you can talk to my mum’.
“We had a chat and he said he’d been watching a lot of footage of Bailey and recognised he was a hard worker. Nobody had actually put his name forward, which is a real credit to Bailey.
“He said he wanted to see him and invited us to the Sunshine Coast around mid-May. That was just after the (NRL) Magic Round and before the Storm players were heading for Townsville.
“The session had to be called off because the grounds were too wet but they all came over and introduced themselves. We met Craig Bellamy and the coaching staff. It was unbelievable.
“But because it was cancelled, we assumed he hadn’t had a run, they didn’t get to see him, and we’d just put it down as a great trip.
“But Tim said they’d seen enough already and wanted to offer him a contract.”
Anderson said her son was speechless and still didn’t believe the offer was true until he signed on the dotted line, with his under 16s Souths Junior Sharks coach Ray Seymour in attendance.
With Bailey in grade 11, he will remain in Mackay for the next two years, working with the Storm on his nutrition plan, weights program, videos and more, plus attend camps throughout the season.
At the end of year 12, Bailey hopes he will get to go straight to Melbourne to train with the team in pre-season.
Anderson said her son started out like most kids, wanting to play the game to be around his mates, but now he’s chasing a massive life dream.
“He was always a hard worker,” she said.
“He gets his game face on and that’s all, he’s focused. As he got older, even as his mum, I kind of was a bit shocked that he’s quite fast. All those different skills started to come out as he developed over the years.
“Obviously I’m super proud. He’s worked really hard. Bailey’s very humble. He still sort of pinches himself but he’s very driven. He just wants to make sure he deserves it.”
Just two weeks ago Tara Devlin was yet to score a try in her two-year rugby league career.
Now she has three tries to her name and her confidence is growing every single week.
Tara signed up with the Yeppoon Seagulls JRL last year, playing with the under 12s on the wing.
She instantly fell in love with the game and returned this year to play with the under 12s once again, given there are no girls’ teams nearby.
And her loyalty has paid off, with Tara taking home the player of the match award last week after bagging a double – the two tries coming one week after she scored her first ever four pointer.
Her mother, Deirdre Devlin, said her daughter is going from strength to strength in the game and is trying new positions on the field, including centre and her personal favourite, second row.
“She’s extremely passionate,” Devlin said.
“She lives and breathes it.
“This year the coach has been putting her in different positions and she got the only try of the game last week. She’s delighted with herself and it gives her a boost of confidence.
“She used to be quire frightened of tackling and her coach from last year said, ‘you just have to commit’.
“Now she finds it great. She’s fallen into the whole game. It’s her whole world.”
Devlin – who can often be seen on the sidelines “screaming like a banshee” - said there were concerns Tara wouldn’t be able to play this year due to the limited opportunities for girls in the area, but her Yeppoon teammates have made her feel right at home.
“She’s playing with a group of boys who are very inclusive,” Devlin said.
“She really is enjoying it this year because she’s part of the team. She’s not seen as the girl.
“She’s very fortunate to have a great team and really supportive coaches and managers.”
QRL South East
Playing at Suncorp Stadium, meeting the great Johnathan Thurston, mixing with the stars of the Hostplus Cup - it has been a huge couple of weeks for the kids of Deadly Choices.
As the NRL celebrated its Indigenous Round, Wynnum Manly made their long-awaited return to Stradbroke Island, and the nation commemorated National Reconciliation Week, it was the kids of health promotion initiative Deadly Choices that proudly represented their people and their culture across the game.
Starting on Friday, May 27, a group of children were selected to play at Suncorp ahead of the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Titans Indigenous Round clash before forming the guard of honour for NRL players.
Then on Thursday, June 2, the Titans celebrated Indigenous Round at their own home ground, playing host to the Cowboys, with a group of kids - also representing the local Kalwun community controlled health service - once again selected to form the guard of honour for the two Queensland teams, with the youngsters also getting the opportunity to meet Thurston.
Finally, on Sunday, June 5, Deadly Choices’ partnership with Wynnum Manly and Yulu-Burri-Ba health service once again gave the opportunity for Indigenous children to take part in clinics with players, play games ahead of the main Hostplus Cup match, and form a guard of honour.
Deadly Choices business development and partnerships scheme manager Nathan Appo said the kids were selected for a number of reasons, including whether they had come through the Deadly Choices Healthy Lifestyle program or another health initiative, or had their health checks.
He said these events help them promote their messages of the importance of healthy living and puts the focus on young Indigenous kids.
“It puts the spotlight on them,” he said.
“Not many kids get to play at the Broncos Indigenous Round. They come from community and to be able to represent their people and their culture and the country that they’re from, it means a lot to them.
“We’ve seen incidents where families have travelled hours to the game just to see their kids play at half-time.
“A lot of these guys they then see on the field playing … guys like David Fifita and Selwyn Cobbo … they all come from community as well and have been involved in Deadly Choices previously.
“They get to interact with the players and ask questions around how they’ve made it to playing for a professional rugby league team and what it means to make healthy choices and be role models.”
Appo said the Wynnum Manly and Stradbroke Island experience in particular was “really unique” with the Seagulls donning jerseys designed in collaboration with Deadly Choices.
He said the kids had lots of interaction in the days leading up the match – and on game day – heightening their awareness of making healthy choices and celebrating their culture.
“It’s more than a game to us and them now,” Appo said.
“It’s an understanding of reconciliation and closing the gap with Indigenous people. It’s a great way to connect on a cultural level and use rugby league as that vehicle to create amazing incentives.”
Main image: Queensland legend Johnathan Thurston with a group of Deadly Choices kids. Photo: Deadly Choices Facebook