A Fingal Bay teen selected for a new NSW rugby union development squad hopes to open more pathways for country-based players to pursue the sport professionally.
Liam Kelly, 17, has represented the Hunter and NSW in rugby union continuously for the past four years.
He was picked for the new under-18 NSW squad, made up with the best junior talent from country and city areas, at the end of June.
“It’s a massive privilege,” Kelly said on being selected.
“I want to go through the ranks and pave the way for younger generations, the country boys, wanting to make a career out of rugby.
“This [NSW squad] is another pathway country boys can get into professional rugby, can be seen, scouted and make a career out of it.”
Four Newcastle boys, including Kelly, who plays for the Wanderers in the NHRU premier league, were selected for the NSW squad.
After one training session together, the squad flew to Melbourne to face a Victorian schoolboys team.
NSW lost 29-19.
They will face the under-19 developing Waratahs squad this month.
Players in the NSW squad can be selected for the Australian schoolboys team, which is what Kelly, captain of Hunter Valley Grammar School, is aiming for.
Kelly, a former Nelson Bay Gropers junior, trains four days a week, plays on Saturday with the Wanderers and completes sprint training twice a week.
During the years Kelly has been recognised for his athletic skills off the rugby field.
With Port Stephens Little Athletics in 2014, he placed second at nationals for the 100m sprint.
The same year, with Fingal Beach Surf Lifesaving Club, he came first in the state for beach sprinting.
In 2015, he came fourth at nationals for beach sprinting.
While he still undertakes sprint training, Kelly has stepped back from athletics and duties at the surf club to focus on his Higher School Certificate studies and developing a career in rugby union.
“I feel like rugby can take me further,” he said.
“It’s a world sport. Union is played all around the world and can open more doors.”
Kelly, who wants to study mining engineering at UNSW Sydney, said rugby could also help with scholarships for further education and playing opportunities in Australia and overseas.
In 2016, Kelly, who plays left wing, was part of an under-17’s Rugby 7’s state squad.
Through that he played in the Easter Gala at Scots College, a boarding school for boys in Sydney.
Kelly has played with the Newcastle Wanderers for two years, NSW Country for four years and the Hunter Wildfires representative squad for five years.
He also plays union for his school.