Teen sharpens skills in Ballina
ENGLISH teenager Alex Shepherdson was so keen to improve his rugby league skills that he flew to the other side of the world to play with the Ballina Seagulls during his school holidays.
But his dad, Roger, would like to see the leagues in England and Australia create some form of junior exchange program with the aim of improving the game at an international level – and reducing the dominance of Australia.
Alex, 14, last Saturday played the last of his four games for the Seagulls’ Under-15 team coached by Jeff Staude.
And the young hooker now has plenty of knowledge packed up with his league kit to use back at home – and hopes one day to use that against the Aussies if he realises his dream of playing for his country.
But, for now, his sights are set on making a first-grade team back home.
Alex has a 12-month contract in the development squad of English Super League club Hull.
The trip down under came about because Alex’s mentor at Hull is former Brisbane Broncos player Sean Berrigan, who said he could line up some training with the Brisbane team’s development squad.
Alex has a family connection with Ballina. His grandmother’s sister, Janet Galloway, lives in the town with husband Bob.
So his dad, a former prop for Hull, paid the airline ticket and Alex went to the Broncos.
But the teenager wanted to get a real taste for Australian rugby league during his stay.
Bob Galloway spoke to one of his mates at the Ballina Bowling Club, ‘Bunger’, who approached the Seagulls to get the teen a few games.
Alex said the biggest difference he noticed in the game, even at his age level, was the ‘pace of the game and the intensity’.
He said the English style of play was much more structured – players keeping to their positional play rather than the freedom Australian players have.
Roger agreed that it would be good if an international exchange program could be developed to let juniors have a chance to play in Australia rather than just compete at representative level.
Staude agreed an exchange program would be great but the cost would be the only drawback.
Staude, meanwhile, was impressed with Alex’s performance.
The teen scored three tries in his first game – the first with his first touch of the ball. In total, he scored five tries in his four games.
“He was good, and he fitted in so well,” Staude said.
“The way he picked up the game plans, it was as if he had been part of the team for years.
“It would be really hard to travel half-way around the world and fit in.”