League of champions
By STEVE SPINKS
BALLINA'S James Aubusson has had plenty of highlights during his short rugby league career.
The 19-year-old has made glamour sides like the Australian Schoolboys, the Junior Kangaroos (Australian Under-19s), NSW Under-17s and Under-19s sides and played Premier League and Jersey Flegg for the high profile Sydney Roosters.
But none of those sides compared with playing for the Australian Invitational XIII against New Zealand A in the curtain-raiser to the first Tri-Nations Test match between the Kangaroos and the Kiwis at Sydney on October 15.
There is a simple reason why.
The sheer calibre of the Invitational XIII personnel.
The side was captained by St George-Illawarra five-eighth Trent Barrett and included big names such as Matt Cooper, Willie Mason, Scott Prince, Mark O'Meley and Ben Creagh.
"Playing with those guys was definitely the highlight," Aubusson said while holidaying at home in Ballina.
"Even though we got beat 40-16, you just learn so much from those blokes."
As for the scoreline, Aubusson who played hooker, thought the limited preparation of the team hurt the Australian XIII.
"I only found out I was in the team after playing for the Junior Kangaroos in Darwin against Papua New Guinea the weekend before," he said.
"We only had one training session together and the New Zealand team had something like 100 Test caps between them."
Despite preferring halfback, Aubusson has found himself being selected at hooker more and more in recent seasons.
However, his switch from the Roosters to the Melbourne Storm will hopefully rectify that.
With top half Matt Orford heading to Manly, the Storm's first choice No7 is the inexperienced Cooper Cronk who played the majority of the season off the bench for Melbourne in 2005.
Aubusson has been signed as Cronk's understudy but the former Marist Brothers premiership winning Group One player has high hopes of cracking a first grade berth at some stage during the season.
"I'd like to have a good shot at halfback which was a big part of the reason why I left the Roosters," the former Woodlawn student said.
"There was just too many in front of me in the halves there.
"Plus with Orford leaving, the Melbourne offer was pretty much the only one I took seriously."
It will also be the first time Aubusson will be included in the top 25 of an NRL squad meaning his contract now enables him to be fully professional.
His contract takes effect from October 31 when pre-season training kicks-off in Melbourne.
But while moving to a big city so far away from home would daunt many youngsters, Aubusson is looking forward to the move.
After all, the Storm already boast two former Marist Brothers and Woodlawn players in their line-up ... Matt King and Ian Donnelly.