Gold Coast Titans young gun Keano Kini is soaking up the rich experience that surrounds him at the Burleigh Bears, as he strives to make his mark this Hostplus Cup season.
The 18-year-old made a surprise Cup debut in Round 1, winning the battle for Burleigh’s No.1 jersey that was left absent by last year’s Hostplus Cup Petero Civoniceva Medal winner Taine Tuaupiki.
Not even coach Luke Burt knew he would have Kini’s services until January this year, with the talented fullback making a rapid rise through the ranks after also being elevated to the Titans’ top 30 roster.
And while it is a learning curve for Kini, the youngster knows he is in the best learning environment possible, given the quality of players around him.
Burleigh boast some of the game’s most experienced players, with the likes of Hayden Schwass, Pat Politoni, Guy Hamilton, Sam Coster and skipper Sami Sauiluma all sitting on more than 100 Cup games.
“They want me to get the experience of playing men,” Kini said of his elevation to Cup.
“I just came out of school so it’s about playing against men and getting the physicality under my belt.
“I thought I would just try to work my way through the (Hastings Deering Colts) 21s this year but I’m honoured to be part of the Hostplus Cup team this early. Learning off these boys as well, they have a really high standard here in Burleigh.
“All the older boys, like Coster, Guy Hamilton, Sami Sauiluma… there’s a bunch of older boys here and talking to them makes me feel real comfortable.”
Burt admitted he hadn’t seen too much of Kini before he was allocated to the Bears in January, having watched only some schoolboy rugby league highlights.
With the likes of Creedence Toia and Toby McIntosh at the club, the Burleigh fullback race was already heated.
However, after the teen played in a Titans trial against the Brisbane Broncos in February, Burt was pretty sure he had found his No.1 for 2023.
He can already see how much Kini is taking in from his time with the Bears.
“He’s a brilliant young fella and a kid that really wants to learn,” Burt said.
“Being at the Titans full-time, he’s soaking everything up there, and then when he comes back to us, he’s very coachable, wants to learn, and wants to know what more he can do for the side.
“He’s a brilliant young talent and tougher than most fullbacks in the game.
“This year we want to see improvement out of him each week. Only debuting two weeks ago, it’s educating him more and more each week and helping him so that he’ll get his NRL opportunity when he’s ready.”
Kini made his debut against the Norths Devils in Round 1 and – after a Round 2 bye for Burleigh – played the majority of the Round 3 clash against Redcliffe, but came from the field early after copping a boot to the stomach.
He has been named at fullback once again for this Saturday’s XXXX Rivalry Round clash with Tweed Seagulls.
Match: Seagulls v Bears
Round 4 -
Venue: Piggabeen Sports Complex, Tweed Heads
After watching last year’s fullback Tuaupiki go on to make his NRL debut this year with the New Zealand Warriors, Kini is keen to replicate that success but do it in his own way.
However, he is not getting too far ahead of himself.
He said he knows he has to still earn the No.1 jersey every week. And he knows he is playing for far more than just himself.
“It means heaps to me to be here,” he said.
“It’s all happened pretty quick and I’m happy for my family as well. My family sacrificed a lot for me to get here so I’m just trying to repay them.
“We moved from Auckland two years ago. My mum and dad packed up everything and moved over here for me (to join the Titans’ junior system). I owe everything to my parents and my family.
“I want try to make the same impact (as Tuaupiki) but follow in my own footsteps. I just want to play consistent Cup, get myself right and play really good for Burleigh, try to work my way up.
“If anything higher happens, it happens.”