Maroons unveil roots of success

When the captains of junior teams stand in centre field with the referee for the toss of the coin at Souths Graceville Rugby League Club, they don't have to worry solely about whether to run with or against the wind, but also whether to run up hill or down hill.

The gradient of the back field at Souths Graceville must have a gradient of at least five degrees from the western end to the east but for the kids in this south-western Brisbane suburb, it's simply where they play footy.

Having seen their club and fields devastated by the Brisbane floods of 2011, hundreds turned out on Tuesday to meet their Maroons heroes for a school holiday coaching clinic with some of the biggest names in the game.

Whether it was trying to emulate a Johnathan Thurston 'show-and-go', a Greg Inglis fend or simply trying to evade being tackled by big Dave Taylor, the enthusiastic kids shared an experience they'll never forget and rekindled memories of how footy began for the game's elite.

"I remember back home at Kuranda, near Cairns, there weren't too many grass fields up there," says Queensland centre Justin Hodges. "It was mostly all gravel and rocks. I remember going up there and playing my first game and you'd come home with cuts all over your legs because there wasn't too much grass up in Kuranda.

"Obviously I was only a kid and when you're a kid you do anything to play anywhere but as an adult I wouldn't play there!"

For Taylor, who played his early footy in Blackwater in Queensland's central west, an injury incurred recently by his daughter brought flashbacks as to the types of bumps and bruises he'd come home with from footy every week.

"My little girl skinned her knee and she woke up on Tuesday morning and her pants were stuck to it," Taylor tells NRL.com. "I thought, That brings back a lot of memories.

"Playing on some of the fields that we did out home, a lot of it was just rocks and gravel so you'd come off and have big grazes down your leg and you'd wake up in the morning and your pants would be stuck to your leg.

"The fields were always real rough, playing on the top of cricket pitches in the middle of the field; teams would try and stay away from the cricket pitch. You'd know if you hit the cricket pitch when you were running because you'd be running and then all of a sudden hit cement and jar your body a little bit.

"But that was the good thing growing up in the bush back in the day, I wouldn't have changed it for anything."

On the morning of joining camp with the Maroons ahead of Origin III next Wednesday night, Queensland prop Nate Myles met up with the rugby league team of his alma mater, St Augustine's College in Cairns, before they took part in the 2014 Confraternity Shield in Brisbane from Thursday.

"They're down here for the Confraternity Shield so it was good to go out and see them and touch base and refresh your memory on how lucky we are," said Myles, who played his junior footy with the Southern Suburbs club in Gordonvale.

"I grew up in Cairns so [the fields] were either rock hard, or mud. I loved playing footy as a kid. Playing with no shoes and then I remember getting shoes and kicking them off because they were too hot; I loved junior footy.

"I love what it's about, I love everything from the hot chips to the oranges at half-time, I love everything about junior footy.

"I loved how the families got down there and supported it all and even going back to my old club, the clubhouse is still the same and everything's still the same so it brings back good memories."

While many of the Maroons have memories of rough fields that have softened with time, Ben Te'o's upbringing north of Auckland may have resulted in a frosty reception on many winter mornings but instilled the values that junior rugby league engenders in those who take part.

"Cold fields where I grew up, early days in Auckland. I remember playing barefoot, you didn't get boots until you were about 10," Te'o says. "I used to play for a team in north Auckland so we used to travel down to Auckland and get smashed every week. Every week.

"I was eight years old when I started and I think the best thing has got to be enjoyment and friendships. They're the two most important things. The friends you make, the social skills that you develop, it was awesome and I used to love going to training.

"I'd wished they'd trained every day but it was only once or twice a week."