Indispensable is the word you’d use to describe Eels flyer Joel Reddy’s efforts as leading try-scorer for Parramatta last year – but he could have just as easily been on the other side of the ledger.<br><br>Reddy spent his adolescent life in South Australia, known more for its AFL triumphs than as a rugby league nursery. He moved to Sydney as soon as school was over, but the then 18-year-old was focussing as much on university as he was football. <br><br>Raw and skinny, Reddy did not have the benefit, like most other players, of being moulded as a teenager by an NRL club. Nonetheless, Parramatta swooped and signed him to a deal. If they hadn’t, Reddy would most likely have ended up using his health and exercise science degree to follow a career in strength and conditioning.<br><br>“I was set to come [to Sydney] anyway and go to uni and see how I went, but from there the Eels decided to sign me up for two years, which was good,” he explains.<br><br>“They got me through the first part of uni, which I’m still doing part-time. I was going to move to Sydney anyway, but it was just good Parramatta decided to sign me up; I would’ve had a crack somewhere but things might have petered out. <br><br>It was good it worked out .”<br><br>He is a kid whose potential was undeniable, but he took his time in reaching it.<br><br>And after continually showing faith in the wiry winger, Parramatta now have a reliable and versatile outside back. He’s impeccably safe under the high ball, is muscling up in defence, making some good options and is proving a tenacious and successful finisher. <br><br>It was a long time coming, but all the more remarkable given the limited experience Reddy can boast in those all-important formative teenage years.<br><br>His father, St George legend Rod Reddy, relocated the family from rugby league-mad Sydney to Adelaide to take up the head coaching position with the now defunct Adelaide Rams when Joel was 12. That experiment was short-lived though – Reddy can tell you league never quite took off in South Australia.<br><br>Reddy always had a love for the game , but he hated turning up to training with half a team, so he turned to soccer and Aussie rules.<br><br>“I enjoyed soccer, I didn’t really enjoy AFL to be honest but training-wise you get five or six to training if you’re lucky playing rugby league, and at least with soccer you’re definitely training twice a week,” he explains.<br><br>“You get two full teams every weekend, so that’s what drew me to soccer – but I always wanted to play rugby league. It was always a goal to go back to Sydney straight after high school and play rugby league and that’s how it worked out.”<br><br>While he watched older brother Liam, who now plays for Queensland Roar in the A-League, get picked in representative teams as a goalkeeper in soccer, Reddy was sure rugby league was where his future lay. <br><br>Luckily, he was awarded a scholarship to the fledgling rugby league program at the Australian Institute of Sport. Without receiving that leg-up, Reddy would be even further behind. <br><br>“I had a year at the AIS when I was in Year 12 and it closed the gap a lot. Otherwise I think I would have really struggled to come from South Australia to Sydney to try and make a career of it,” he admits.<br><br>“Having that year at the AIS, every school holidays with Brian Johnson, who was the head of the AIS, lessened the gap and helped me kick-start at Parramatta.”<br><br>Size and strength is not a feature of soccer training, so physically Reddy needed that year at the AIS to bulk up. But without regular weights programs back then, the 23-year-old is still only just catching up.<br>“That was another thing with the AIS program – they realised nowadays, unless you’re extremely quick, you have to have a bit of size and that was definitely part of it,” he says.<br><br>“It’s only the last couple of years with a couple of good pre-seasons under my belt I’ve been trying to get a little bit stronger, and I think I’m slowly getting there.”<br><br>Those pre-seasons must have worked, because the South Adelaide junior has become a new player over the past two years. While Eric Grothe languished in reserve grade last season and injuries gripped the Eels’ backline, Reddy took his opportunities. He scored 12 tries and set up six others. Reddy reckons confidence has enabled him to transform from a reserve-grader to <br>a bona fide NRL footballer.<br><br>“I’ve been concentrating on my own game a bit and seeing how I go from there, and just trying to do my best every week,” he explains.<br><br>“I didn’t play a lot of rugby league until I was 18 so maybe I’m a bit of a late bloomer since it took me a couple of years to get to where I am. <br><br>“The first year I played NRL I played three games, then three again and then 10, so to get 20 games under my belt last year really helped and hopefully I can improve on that this year. The more NRL you play, the more confident you get.”<br><br>Proud dad Rod ‘Rocket’ Reddy tries to stay out of his son’s way at the Eels, where he works in their recruitment. But Reddy’s move to first grade completes a trio of first-class athletes among the Reddy clan. As well as Liam now playing in the NRL, sister Bianca plays in the trans-Tasman netball championships for Adelaide, while Liam is established at the Roar.<br><br>“He did well to pick up league again really, he’s just fortunate he’s got good genes,” Rod says, tongue-in-cheek.<br><br>“But you get used to that stuff, you like to see them all competing. The frustrating thing is trying to get all three of them to win on the same weekend to keep them all happy, very rarely does that happen!”<br><br>‘Rocket’ reckons there are a couple of records at the Sutherland Little Athletics club which still belong to Joel, and no matter how much he tries to avoid the ‘teacher’s son syndrome’, Rod can’t hide the pride in his voice when talking about Joel’s perseverance with his rugby league career.<br><br>“He’s always been a boy who’s worked pretty hard. I try and stay away from him and let him go his own way, but I reckon he’s probably a little bit of a late bloomer,” Rod says. “He’s just got a little stronger I suppose.<br><br>“His first coach was Robert Stone, the Dragons player, and it’s just rolled on from there. He’s always been a bit of a quiet achiever in Little Athletics and all that sort of stuff.”<br><br>Off the field Reddy is continuing his university degree, but it is taking a little longer than he first thought. Once footy is over he is keen to become a strength and conditioning coach, but hopes he doesn’t need that for a long time.<br><br>Despite a small hiccup with injury a few weeks ago, Reddy has been a consistent performer in a disappointing Eels side to date. And after signing a new contract this year, Reddy’s future in rugby league looks assured.<br><br>“Being able to do what you do in Jersey Flegg is one thing,” he offers. “Then Premier League another. But to be able to do it in first grade – if you can step up to that you’re doing well.”
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