When Henri Stocks was a young kid, his ultimate goal was to be the best rugby league player in the world.
Now at the age of 20, Stocks still wants to be the best, but in a very different way.
Born in Kimbe, on the Papua New Guinean island of New Britain, Stocks has spent the past 14 years shaping his rugby league journey in Mackay, after moving to Australia at the age of six.
Throughout this time he has given up promising opportunities in soccer to focus on league – citing the off-field “comradery” as the trump card. He joined the Mackay Cutters Academy at a young age and represented Queensland in the under 16s clash with New South Wales in 2018.
He missed out on playing in the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup in 2020 due to COVID-19, but has continued to thrive, joining the Hastings Deering Colts in 2021 and then making his Hostplus Cup debut in 2022, still a teenager.
It’s been quite the journey for Stocks and there’s still a long way to go. But what the past 14 years has shown him is the exact kind of “best” player he wants to be.
“I want to be someone that people look up to… just in the way I carry myself,” Stocks said.
“When I was younger I wanted to be the best rugby league player.
“But as time goes on you have to be more realistic. Now, I just want to be the best version of myself, whether that’s playing NRL or playing here and seeing the little locals.
“I do want to go up to a high level but you have to bide your time. I want to learn as much as I can and see wherever my abilities take me.
“When I was six I remember looking up to the Cutters boys here and wanting to be like them.
“Now that I am one of them, I mostly want to influence the young locals and keep them on the right path and see where they go and inspire them.”
Stocks, who is also studying a bachelor degree in secondary education, ended up playing five Cup games in 2022 after injuries wreaked havoc for the Cutters.
He is training with the Cup side once again in the lead up to season 2023 but has also been earmarked as a leader for this year’s Colts team, in what will be his last season in the under 21s program.
While he is determined to guide the Colts to a successful year on and off the field, he is also hopeful of getting more time in Cup, after getting that first taste last season.
He made his debut in Round 6 against the Brisbane Tigers, playing 80 minutes at five-eighth as the Cutters notched up a 24-12 victory.
“It was my first year in Cup last year and I’d just been training with them, so I wasn’t really expecting much, just to learn as much as I can,” Stocks said of his Cup debut.
“We had a lot of injuries around that time so there wasn’t really much of a choice but the coach sat me down - Dave Elliott – and he said, ‘mate you’re going out on the field this weekend in front of a home crowd'.
“I was pretty stoked about that, being a local. But at the time, it hadn’t hit me.
“All week training and the boys hyping me up and stuff, it all just felt pretty surreal until I actually got out there and the first whistle blew.
“It hit me and I was like, ‘hopefully this is going to be me for the rest of my playing career'.”
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Stocks said he was happy with where his knowledge was at, thanks to constant exposure to more senior players in his time at the Cutters, but he was working on “maturing physically” to be ready for any more Cup opportunities in 2023 or beyond.
This "beyond" includes potential representative footy, something which Stocks has given some thought to due to his split allegiances.
The former Mackay State High school captain said his home nation of Australia would probably be his first preference but he also knew he would never turn down the chance to represent his birth country and his PNG family.
“I’m still younger than everybody else but if I ever did get the opportunity to represent the Kumuls, I definitely would,” Stocks said.
“Australia is my home and I grew up here so I see myself as Australia first but for my parents, I would.
“They would probably prefer to see me in the Kumuls colours. But I wouldn’t be too fussy. If they asked me, I would definitely stick my hand up.”