When 13-year-old Sydnee Cleeland and her mum Josie found out more than halfway into their 10-hour drive from Mt Isa to Townsville that the NQ Schoolgirls trials had been cancelled, they thought their trip was ruined.
However, with the help of family friend Cara and her daughter, current Indigenous All Star and Sydney Roosters NRLW player Keilee Joseph, the Cleelands were put in touch with Cowboys Elite Pathways Coach Ben Jeffries, who made sure the teenager didn’t go home emptyhanded.
“To do an 1800km round trip for one trial is a huge commitment, so when it was postponed due to extreme heat when they were more than halfway here, I knew we had to do something for Sydnee,” Jeffries said.
“We didn’t want her to leave without some sort of experience to keep inspiring her to live out her dream in rugby league.
“Whether a female comes in for one session or multiple, the expectation of our program is that players always get the best possible experience to enhance their rugby league knowledge and understanding.”
Sydnee, who is trained four days a week by former Cowboy John Doyle as part of an athletes program in Mt Isa, said the experience has motivated her even more to one day play in the NRLW.
“I really enjoyed it and had so much fun,” Sydnee said.
“I got to learn different plays and to be able to train with the older girls was a great experience.
“The girls were all hi-fiving me, encouraging me and congratulating me when I did something good.”
“When the Cowboys get a team, I would love to play for them one day.”
Josie said that despite the trial being called off, her daughter took plenty away from the opportunity to train alongside the team.
“As she’s only 13, she couldn’t do any of the tackling drills, but they got her involved in all the ball drills and plays,” Josie said.
“It really gave her a benchmark of what to work towards and then the confidence to work towards that.”
“Ben, [team manager] Tammy and the whole team were very supportive of Sydnee, even giving her a shirt.
“They went out of their way to made sure Sydnee was catered for and the team was so great.”