Our journey through previous Academy Tours of Australia ends with the most recent – 2015.
Derek Traynor takes up the story.
The big thing about the tour is we are trying to mould players. We are looking to produce well mannered, respectable and polite lads off the field – and competitive players on it. I felt we achieved that in 2015. Walking to the gate at the airport you could see passengers hoping they weren’t sat with us. At the end those same people were saying how well behaved the lads had been. That is great for the club and shows what we are doing is working.
We set the standards and the culture we want and the players follow. Obviously, when they go out on the field we want them to be competitive. In the end it was a well-disciplined tour.
The first game against Wests Tigers was a big shock for the younger players in the group who hadn’t yet played Academy rugby. The speed and intensity was a very steep learning curve as Wests Magpies and Balmain Tigers brought their best players together to form their cubs and we really had to dig in.
We were losing midway through but as we came accustomed to the size and style of play against us we managed scored two tries in the last 20 to win the match. Sadly, we lost Josh Eaves to a broken jaw early in the game. Thankfully, it didn’t need surgery and full credit to him, he just got on with the tour and supported the lads. In turn, they treated him as part of the squad. It was great the way everyone rallied around him as he had some tough times in those initial days following the injury.
The second game was upon pretty quickly and in losing a leading player in Josh we had to make some playing adjustments with Brad Billsborough moving from stand off to hooker and Elliott Jenkins coming into the halves alongside Rob Fairclough.
Against Central Coast we always knew we would be facing a well organised and physical side as their set up is run by the Sydney Roosters. We took charge early, scored some good tries and improved from the experience of the first game. The younger players certainly stood up and were counted.
The third game against Parramatta Eels was the highlight of the tour for the majority. They are as big as Super League teams over here and we had to try and match that by digging in when periods of possession went against us and hang on. We always stayed within touching distance and as the second half got to the critical moments we managed pinch a couple of tries whilst restricting them to a drop goal.
Then in the last minute, with the last play of the game, we scored through Chris Follin and won the match.
Chris Follin: “My overriding memory would be when I turned around after scoring and seeing the faces of the lads; it was a great feeling.”
For the lads to perform that skill under pressure and not panic was just superb. As soon as the lad passed the ball to put us in we were jumping up and down, whilst Daniel Anderson on the Parramatta bench was in a state of shock!
The game against Penrith Panthers is historically the toughest and the one we want to win. After the ending five days earlier it was always going to difficult to match that level of performance and to be honest we didn’t play well.
After racing into a 12-0 lead we made far too many errors which put our defence under pressure. The Panthers were well organised and defended well – and we had to match that. We ended up grinding out a win to go four on four – a big achievement.
In our eyes the 2015 tour was a resounding success in the same way that each has been beforehand.
In their Words:
Chris Follin: It was an emotional ride with its ups and downs, but overall a great life experience and great insight into the type of life a professional player has.
Matthew Lees: It really was a once in a lifetime opportunity, which the whole team made the most of, winning all four games. The training was really tough but I gained knowledge and skill which improved my performance massively.
Lewis Furlong: Simply, one of the best experiences of my life. I couldn’t have asked for a better set of lads to share it with!
Matty Kilgannon: It exceeded all expectations. It was a real test of character at times, due to the amount of training and activities we had to do, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Walking out before that first game will always be special for me, and then three games later walking out before the game at Penrith’s Pepper Stadium. I was thinking about the players you watch on TV that have made that same walk and played there.
Kevin Brown: I heard how hard the training was from past tourists, so I was expecting an extremely hard three weeks. You know 24 other lads are going through the same as you and you help each other out. Every day was enjoyable and memorable.
And off the field memories:
Matty Kilgannon: Putting a fake snake in Kev Brown’s bed and listening to his reaction as he discovered it…
Chris Follin: When we found Levy washing his clothes in a plastic bin…
Matthew Lees: Seeing Rob Fairclough nearly cry as we went over the Blue Mountains in a cable car because he was scared of heights…
1. Brad Billsborough
2. Cameron Brown
3. Kevin Brown
4. Adam Causey
5. Harry Coleman
6. Matthew Costello
7. Joshua Eaves
8. Alex Eckley
9. Danny Edwards
10. Robert Fairclough
11. Christopher Follin
12. Lewis Furlong
13. Jordan Gibbons
14. Callum Hazzard
15. Robbie Horton
16. Elliott Jenkins
17. Matthew Kilgannon
18. Matthew Lees
19. Jorge Lewtas
20. Levy Nzoungou
21. Jordan Olmez
22. Kieran O’Mara
23. Brad Pinder
24. Jack Unsworth
25. Mike Weldon
St Helens v Wests Tigers 22-18
St Helens v Central Coast 34-14
St Helens v Parramatta Eels 20-17
St Helens v Penrith Panthers 22-10