New North Queensland Toyota Cowboys elite pathways manager Glenn Hall says the volume of player movement between the club and its three Intrust Super Cup feeder teams is a tremendous boost to the overall health of rugby league in the region.
The former NRL warhorse has begun his new role after retiring at the end of the 2015 season, after a career spanning 14 years and five clubs, including 98 games for the Cowboys (2011-15).
After leaving the Cowboys, Hall worked in the private sector in Townsville but his passion for rugby league continued and he played a season with the Townsville Blackhawks before a serious arm injury ended his season prematurely.
Having replaced fellow former Cowboy Micheal Luck – who remains at the club in an HR role – as the pathways boss, Hall has kept a close eye on the playing talent coming through the Cowboys system.
He was even teammates at the Blackhawks with former under-20s players Corey Jensen, Kieran Quabba and Andrew Niemoeller.
“The way our elite pathways program is set up, we give the players that come into our under-20s system support in both their rugby league and life development,” Hall said.
“Once these players graduate from the under-20s, there are a couple of ways to the NRL. Some young fellows get signed straight to first-grade deals, while many more go on to state-based competitions.
“Over the off-season, we’ve seen both of these pathways taken by players who we’ll welcome into the NRL squad in 2017.”
Former Cowboys NYC forward Corey Jensen left the club at the end of the 2014 season and spent the next two years plying his trade with the Blackhawks, helping the side to consecutive finals series in its first two years.
Through hard work and good form, Corey has now landed his first NRL contract and has started his first NRL pre-season.
Marcus Jensen was a star for the Cowboys 20s in 2016, the tall winger topping the NYC’s try-scorers’ list with 27 four-pointers as the young Cowboys went through to the preliminary final for the second straight year.
Marcus’s breakout year earned him a full-time Cowboys contract in 2017.
Joining him in the Cowboys’ NRL squad straight from the under-20s will be Torres Strait product Gideon Gela-Mosby, who is the all-time leading single-season NYC try-scoring record-holder with 39 four-pointers in 2015
Speedster Kalyn Ponga has been part of the Cowboys system for three years, and although still eligible for under-20s, was last year a member of the full-time NRL squad, the 18-year-old making his NRL debut in the 2016 finals series.
Ponga’s former Cowboys 20s teammate Cooper Bambling will be looking to make his way to the NRL via the Queensland competition after linking with the Mackay Cutters under new coach and former Cowboys 20s assistant Steve Sheppard.
But before Bambling gets to show his wares in Mackay, he’ll be sweating it out over the summer in Townsville as one of three train-and-triallists working under the same system that earned Cutters enforcer Patrick Mago a full-time Cowboys contract in 2015.
“The work that our NYC coaching staff of Aaron Payne, Steve Sheppard – who we’ll sorely miss but are thrilled for – and Ash Graham did sets these young kids up beautifully for the pathway they follow,” Hall said.
“These young men get top-level coaching, the best conditioning and strength training, nutritional help, as well as off-field support from our excellent welfare team.
“Our football department is extremely proud when one of these young men either graduate straight from the NYC to the NRL within our club, or when they link with one of our fantastic feeder teams, then come back to us.
“A great deal of our players in recent years have made their NRL debuts through these pathways, including Jason Taumalolo, Michael Morgan, Sam Hoare, Patrick Kaufusi, Javid Bowen, Josh Chudleigh and Coen Hess.”
Another fillip for the clear lines of communication between the Cowboys and its valued feeder clubs is that the head coaches of all three Intrust Super Cup outfits have strong ties to the Cowboys: Sheppard as a former coach and NRL squad member; Northern Pride mentor Ty Williams as a former club stalwart and player of 151 first-grade games; and Kristian Woolf, a former under-20s coach and first-grade assistant.