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Junior league vital for Hampton

By Tony Webeck, Chief Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com

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Being transplanted 2,500 kilometres from the New South Wales Riverina to Mareeba in North Queensland a year before beginning high school has the potential to upset whatever path a youngster had envisioned.

Thankfully for Ben Hampton, he had junior rugby league, and it provided the source for a new circle of friends that has remained an important part of his life for the past decade.

Hampton has once again relocated in the NRL off-season, this time from the Melbourne Storm back to the Cowboys of North Queensland, bringing back memories of when he and his family left Temora in south-west NSW for the heat of the north.

Having begun his sporting exploits with soccer, Australian Rules and cricket growing up in Temora, Hampton played one year of rugby league with the Temora Dragons which gave him the foundation to sign up with the Mareeba Gladiators upon his arrival up north and he has no doubt that helped him to settle in to his new way of life.

"Footy was a lot bigger up there than AFL and soccer and cricket and all the stuff we used to do down south so I just kept ripping into footy up there," Hampton told NRL.com.

"I had a little bit of family up there but didn't really have any friends or anything like that so footy was a really good place for me to meet other kids who were playing footy.

"Some of the boys that I played with when I first moved up there when I was 11 or 12, they're some of my best mates still to this day.

"If I hadn't joined up and played footy when I first moved up there I probably wouldn't have known those fellas.

"It was definitely something that helped me settle into Mareeba that's for sure."

Prior to making the move to Melbourne at 17 years of age Hampton graduated to the senior ranks at Mareeba and played first grade in the Cairns and District Rugby League A-Grade competition as a teenager.

But for Hampton, the most enduring and endearing memories of his days playing junior rugby league were simply the wins – and losses – that he was able to share with his best mates.

"When you had a good win with all the boys, that was always really good," said Hampton, now 24 years of age.

"The best thing about junior footy for me was how much you got to hang out with all your close mates.

"Our whole friendship group all played for the same side and you got to hang out with them a couple of times a week at training, you got to hang out with them at school and then you got to hang out with them on the weekends as well.

"You were pretty much with your mates non-stop so that to me was the best thing about growing up and playing junior footy."

First published on NRL.com.