Swimming with the big boys

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First graders Bronson Xerri, Blayke Brailey, Kyle Flanagan and Jayden Brailey at Shark Park. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
First graders Bronson Xerri, Blayke Brailey, Kyle Flanagan and Jayden Brailey at Shark Park. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

The Cronulla Sharks NRL club has been blessed with a real Catholic schools flavour in 2019 with a record four former students from Aquinas Catholic College Menai playing together in their first grade side.

The incredible feat is believed to be a first, not only for the Cronulla Junior League but also NSW Rugby League, with few top-line sporting clubs – past or present – able to boast such representation from the one school in the same side.

Brothers Jayden and Blayke Brailey, Kyle Flanagan and last week’s first grade debutant, exciting 18-year-old Bronson Xerri were all schooled at the southern Sydney college.

The talented foursome all starred from a young age in the Aquinas Colts teams playing in the Cronulla Sutherland Junior League competition, with goal-kicking whiz Kyle Flanagan – son of premiership-winning coach Shane – leading his team to 10 straight grand final wins.

Sharks Media and Communications manager Rob Willis said having four locals in the team at the same time and from the same school is almost unheard of.

“We have had a lot of local juniors come through over the years, but to have four from the same junior club, all playing in the Sharks NRL team at the same time is very rare,” he said.

Kyle Flanagan, Bronson Xerri and Jayden Brailey with students at Aquinas College Menai.
Kyle Flanagan, Bronson Xerri and Jayden Brailey with students at Aquinas College Menai.

“To the best of our knowledge it hasn’t happened for well over two decades and we would have to search long and hard in the record books to find out whether it has happened at all.

“The Aquinas Colts Junior League Club has been a great nursery for us over the last few years and the encouragement they received from Aquinas College and Holy Family Primary School, which they all attended, also helped them push ahead with their rugby league careers.”

Three of the talented young players recently went back to their alma mater to speak to Year 9 and 10 Physical Activity and Sports Studies (PASS) students about training plans, coaching techniques, wellbeing, resilience and pathways in sport when they visited earlier this week.

Sharks’ coach and former player John Morris has had a lot to do with the four Aquinas boys as they’ve advanced through the Sharks’ junior sides and in some cases, state and Australian Schoolboy junior representative teams.

And while the Sharks’ junior pathways program has resulted in great success over the past 5-6 years, the home-grown local juniors have found it tough to make the next step into NRL first grade … until now.

President of Aquinas Colts, Darren Elliott, said the club was very proud of its star players and looks forward to seeing their football careers progress.

“Aquinas Colts JRLFC are very proud to say that all four boys are products of our club, and it would be fair to say that having them all playing first grade at the same time all from the same junior club would be unprecedented,” he said.

“At our recent Orientation Day prior to the start of the season I said to all the parents and players of our younger teams that whilst they may not follow the Sharks they can definitely follow the careers of these boys as they start to make a name for themselves and aspire to do the same.

“We wish these boys all the best as they continue to grow into first grade footballers but more importantly great role models.”

The Sharks will have six local juniors when they take on premiers, the Sydney Roosters at Shark Park on Saturday night.