IT’S a good thing Storm boy Luke Kelly is used to travel – playing out of Melbourne he’s got to travel interstate every fortnight. But it’s no challenge for the talented five-eighth or halfback from Katherine, who is lapping up every minute of playing in the premier underage rugby league competition in the world.
Kelly is one of few club-contracted players who played junior football in the Northern Territory – along with Panther Joel Romelo, Knight James McManus and fellow Storm back Will Chambers. The isolation certainly didn’t affect his development.
“AFL is pretty popular in the Northern Territory but rugby league has a strong following too,” Kelly says.
“There’s a strong competition in Darwin with about 16 or 17 teams but in Katherine there aren’t too many. For those players who make the under-18s team, they travel to Darwin to play there. Overall the standard is pretty strong – and the locals really love playing the game.”
Returning for his second Toyota Cup season after last season’s disappointing 13th-placed finish, Kelly has his focus set and plans on playing his best football this season.
“Last season was a bit disappointing with the team results but to travel and play in the top under-20s competition in the country was unreal,” Kelly says.
“I thought I had a bit of a slow start to the year personally but after that initial period I thought I went okay. Obviously there is still a lot to improve on – things like my decision-making and my defence in particular – I definitely prefer it in the halves and I think I’ll be playing more at halfback this year.”
How did you find yourself playing for the Storm after growing up in the Northern Territory?
When I was 16 I moved to St Gregory’s College in Campbelltown, for years 11 and 12. While I was at St Greg’s I played for the Wests Magpies SG Ball team and in my final year of year 12, in August, I got offered a contract with the Storm. It was a great moment knowing I was going to get an opportunity to try and become a full-time professional.
Who were your heroes on the football field as a kid?
I really looked up to my dad, Steve, who was a front-rower in the local competition [in the Northern Territory] – he played up until a few years ago and always had a dig – but NRL-wise I’ve always admired Trent Barrett. I guess with Barrett he plays in the same position as I do and I like the way he plays. I’d like to play the game like he does.
What’s been the highlight of your playing days so far?
Representing the Australian Aboriginal under-18s was the biggest sporting honour I’ve been given so far. Playing before the Australia-New Zealand Test [for the Australian Aboriginals] in New Zealand was a massive thrill. Before the match Greg Inglis handed us our jerseys – it was great to be part of it.
Who has helped you to develop as a player?
Greg Inglis is one player I look up to – not so much in what he says, just how he leads by example. Everything he does, on the paddock or in the gym, really sets a great example. I’ve learnt a lot just watching what he does. My under-20s coaches, Brad Arthur and Adam O’Brien, have given me heaps of help too. All the coaching staff at Melbourne are big on video analysis and those two have given me massive amounts of help and advice.
What are your playing goals for 2009 and beyond?
I’d love to just have a solid start to the season after an up-and-down start to last season. I’d like to have a successful season in the Toyota Cup, as an individual and with the team, as well as play a game of NRL some time during the season if rep selections or injuries play a part. Long term, I’d love to play a lot more first grade in the future and establish myself as a full-time professional player. It’s been my goal and my dream for a long time.