Isaah Yeo is following in father Justin's footsteps with a burgeoning NRL career at the Panthers.

Tragedy behind Yeo's NRL rise

The photo montage full of smiles and good times was how I got to know Gerard Yeo.

I was in attendance at Gerard's memorial service in Dubbo in October 2002 not in my role as the sports reporter for the Daily Liberal, but out of respect for a family famous throughout the town but which I was only just beginning to know.

Gerard's older brother Justin had returned home after playing NRL footy with both Balmain and North Sydney and in his role as captain-coach had restored Dubbo CYMS into the powerhouse within Group 11, leading them to four straight premierships from 2001-2004.

His class in the centres was a cut above what most country footballers could handle and his profile in town and the team's success had given the game a much-needed boost.

Gerard's funeral on October 18, 2002 was the first time a then seven-year-old Isaah Yeo had seen his father cry but there were scant few present that day who didn't share at least some semblance of their heartache.

Gerard Yeo was part of the Coogee Dolphins footy club celebrating an end of season trip in Bali when two bombs in the Sari Club snatched away 202 lives – 88 of them Australian, including 20-year-old Gerard.

Isaah, his father and his uncles Paul and Simon today carry Gerard's name permanently in tattoos on their shoulders, Isaah carrying Uncle Gerard's memory with him as he forges his young NRL career with the Panthers.

"I remember going to Nan and Pop's and walking in the front door and them bawling," says Isaah when asked of his memories of a time a town was united in grief. "I'd never seen my dad emotional before and that was the first time so obviously that was very tough.

"They didn't know, they didn't realise he was at the bar, they were hopeful [that he wasn't]. That was obviously a tough thing for the family.

"I was probably lucky that I was young. We all got the tattoo of Gerard and the date of the Bali bombings on our shoulders, all the boys, and that's just to make sure he is with us the whole time.

"At Christmas, all the family in Dubbo goes out to the cemetery; obviously his birthday, we go to Nan and Pop's for tea, and the [anniversary of] the Bali bombings, the family tries to get down to Coogee whenever they can to mingle with the other families."

Isaah's grandparents, Pat and Kier, are revered figures in Dubbo and held in the very highest regard but it is dad Justin who has helped to shape the 19-year-old into a first grade footballer able to stand opposite the likes of Dave Taylor and come out a winner.

Strikingly similar in both physical appearance and playing style, Isaah is now six games shy of the number his father played for the Bears and Balmain but a second try last week against the Titans puts him two clear in the family try-scoring tally.

"He's the first person I call after every game," says Isaah, making me begin to feel my age as the first second-generation interview I've conducted. "I was in the sheds for about 20 minutes [after the Titans game] and just gave him a call to see what he thought, and he's pretty honest.

"He tries to keep me in the game the whole time. He's always telling me to stay in the game and obviously his defence was good so I try to base mine around his I guess.

"He didn't have much of an influence to begin with; I played soccer for about six years when I was younger. I started footy when I was about 12 and when I was in under-17s and first signed my contract with Penrith thought it might be something but I honestly thought I'd be in 20s all year this year. It's been a big surprise and I'm loving every minute of it so far."

When your father is so widely known and highly regarded within rugby league circles in a regional centre such as Dubbo, proving yourself as a player of talent can be doubly as difficult.

Not only do you have to play better than your opposite number, you have to convince parents of other kids that you're not being selected on the basis of family genetics.

"It was harder when I was younger with all the rep teams and that sort of stuff. People say you make it because of your father and all that sort of stuff but it didn't worry me," says Isaah. "I was proud of it, proud of the family and Dubbo and the football they've achieved.

"Dad was pretty much my main coach from 15s through to 18s so he looked after me and he put me at five-eighth for a little bit which I probably think helped me for a little bit. I think he was thinking more about me than the actual team at that time so that helps."

It helps, but it doesn't get you all the way and with a premiership already under his belt with Penrith's under-20s team in 2013, Yeo is representative of the next wave of kids coming into the top grade at Penrith.
Contracted to the Panthers until the end of 2016 after earning an upgrade last season, Yeo can sense that the support they received in the under-20s last season is now transferring to the table-topping NRL team.

"The 20s semi-final time feels exactly like it is now with first grade, everyone's jumped on board, membership is going through the roof so it's obviously looking up for Penrith at the moment," he says.

"My managers, Adomic Sports Management, they got me a couple of trials [at Penrith] because I didn't really have any clubs looking at me. I was lucky enough to get a three-year contract – SG Ball and two years in the 20s – and then I upgraded last year until the end of 2016.

"Penrith was probably my only choice but I'm loving it at the moment. It's a nice area, it reminds me of Dubbo. It's laid-back and there's no traffic."

Except perhaps when the Panthers are playing at home.