Just 20 young men from high schools across NSW were selected to go on a rugby union tour to South Africa this month, and four were from Port Stephens.
Tomaree High School students Jason Allwood, Jordan Byfield and Ryan Duffy plus Irrawang High School student Jacob Rabai, all 16 years old, were picked for the 2017 NSW Combined High Schools Open Development Squad.
This squad of rugby union players, aged between 16 and 18, will spend two weeks in South Africa. The Port players left for South Africa on Sunday, April 9.
They were accompanied by Jason’s father, Ian Allwood.
“As far as I’m aware, no Tomaree students have made the team before,” Allwood said.
“They’re usually all Sydney kids. It’s a pretty prestigious team to be picked for.”
The three Tomaree players were part of an under-16 CHS side last year. Because of this, they were invited to a trial day in Sydney.
Additionally, each region in NSW held a discovery day where talented players were picked and invited to the trial.
More than 120 young men were invited to the trial day where they competed for spots on the CHS Open Development Squad.
They were divided into teams and played all day, a process Allwood said was “amazing” and “brutal”.
The four Port Stephens players were picked for the CHS open side, which has provided them perks such as training at the NSW Waratahs at their training facility in Moore Park.
Being picked for the team is not a small feat. Each player is “pretty serious about their footy”, Allwood said.
“They train five to six times a week,” he said. “They play nearly all year round.”
The Port students are all in Year 11, which means they are playing with Year 12 students and have a second chance to make the side next year.
The three Tomaree students also play with the Nelson Bay Gropers. The club supported the young members with helping to cover costs of the trip.
In the months leading up to the tour, Rabai fund-raised with help from his school.
During their two-week trip in South Africa, the NSW CHS side will play games in the country’s festival of rugby and against grammar schools.
The main games played are part of the St John’s Festival of Rugby that sees teams from across the globe travel to play in Pilanesberg.
Either side of the tournament, the team will visit Table Mountain, Robben Island and SunCity.
They will also visit impoverished areas of the nation and donate rugby gear to young players.
When they return home, on April 22, the Port players will gear up for a competition in Armidale and an all schools tournament in Sydney.