The NSW Waratahs have signed 18-year-old Australian Schoolboys captain Will Harrison, who is a product of the same school in Randwick as Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
Harrison has agreed to a three-year deal with the Waratahs, a club he said he has always dreamed of representing.
"My whole life my dream has been to play for my state and represent my country," Harrison said. "I was always in the system and couldn't see myself playing anywhere else."
The irony of Harrison's rise to Australian Schoolboys captain is that he attended a well-known rugby league school, which doesn't even have a rugby team.
Marcellin College has produced a plethora of NRL stars, such as Braith Anasta and John Sutton. Many years ago there was a student with the last name Cheika, who has since become the most important man in Australian rugby.
"Having the Wallabies coach coming from an old Catholic school in the middle of Randwick is pretty special," Harrison said. "Everyone's so proud of that."
Harrison's junior coach at Randwick, Stu Donaldson, described him as a "great competitor" with a "tremendous will to win".
"He is a strong and fearless defender with a wonderful step and a kicking game second to none," Donaldson said. "Best of all he is a very humble young man who has always taken all of his success in his stride."
Harrison's father, Mark, also attended Marcellin College and played colts rugby with Cheika at the Randwick club.
"I've been going down to Coogee Oval my whole life watching … so it's a massive dream of mine [to play first grade there] and hopefully it comes quicker rather than later," Harrison said.
While there was a "bit of a push" for Harrison to venture down the path of rugby league, he says he always wanted stick with the game they play in heaven.
Born and bred in Kingsford, a one-minute drive from the Waratahs' new base in Daceyville, Harrison learned the game as a junior for the Coogee Seahorses before steadily progressing to Randwick's Colts side.
He was named in an Australian Barbarians team in 2016 but missed trials for the Schoolboys squad because of an ankle injury. Despite this, selectors were so impressed by his performances for Randwick once he had fully recovered they named him as the team's skipper.
And guess who showed up to watch? Michael Cheika. "He's watched a few of my games but, at the time, I didn't know he was there so I didn't have that pressure," Harrison said. "At Schoolboys level though you know there's always going to be those people watching. It's a time that you've got to make a statement and I tried to play my best footy because I knew people would be watching."
A No.10 who can also play at inside-centre and fullback in the 15-man game, Harrison trained with the NSW Gen Blue U20s squad last year while he was still at school.
But it was a recent conversation with Waratahs general manager of football Tim Rapp and U20s coach Pat McCutcheon that may have shaped the 18-year-old's future.
"They said: 'you can go down a sevens path or you can play with us and we'll offer you a contract so you can get a run with the big boys'," Harrison said. "I think the best pathway for me is to take that 15-a-side route, so I went that way."
Ahead of Harrison at NSW is incumbent Wallabies No.10 Bernard Foley, as well as Mack Mason and Bryce Hegarty.
While Harrison describes himself as a versatile No.10 who likes to attack the line, he has made it a goal to develop more maturity on the field.
Gen Blue coach McCutcheon believes he already possesses this trait for a youngster just out of high school.
"He won't pump up his own tyres but he's quite a mature individual for someone who has just turned 18," McCutcheon said. "He's able to read the plays and make those decisions with the skills that are required. I've been really impressed with him."
For the time being, Harrison will still train with the U20s side but those at NSW have a good feeling he will get opportunities this season.
Nevertheless, Harrison is happy absorbing any advice Foley, 10 years his senior, gives him. "He's one of the best 10s Australia has produced," Harrison said. "He's really clinical and a clutch No.10. You can see over his performances in the last four years he's been really consistent. That World Cup [in 2015] he was outstanding every game. He keeps getting better and better."
Tom Decent SMH 30 January 2018
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