Young stars descend on Intrust Super Cup
Tom Murphy's tale is a familiar one in the Intrust Super Cup, Queensland Rugby League's premier competition which kicks off across the state this weekend.
A promising Sunshine Coast junior who graduated from famed rugby league school St Brendan's in Yeppoon, Murphy grabbed the attention of under-20s scouts from the Canberra Raiders and after two years in the nation's capital has spent pre-seasons with the Bulldogs and Storm chasing his NRL dream.
Now 23 years of age, Murphy will captain a new-look Sunshine Coast outfit in this weekend's opening round of the Intrust Super Cup with that dream very much alive but in the knowledge that this is the path many young players must now tread.
Patrick Templeman (Wynnum Manly), Evander Cummins (Redcliffe), Ben Hampton (Sunshine Coast), Vaipuna Tia Kilifi (Northern Pride) and Jake Foster (Easts) will make their debuts for their new clubs this weekend having been highly regarded graduates of the NRL under-20s competition.
As part of the Sunshine Coast's new affiliation with the Melbourne Storm, Murphy and Rueben Bailey spent five weeks under Craig Bellamy's tutelage in the off-season and the skipper knows the only way to earn another contract with an NRL team is to excel in what many of the players refer to as the second best rugby league competition in the world.
"I learnt from every NRL experience I've had and for me personally it's enabled me to grow as a player and I look to take everything I learnt from Canberra and the 'Dogs into what I can do this year in 2015," Murphy said ahead of his team's clash with Norths Devils at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Saturday night.
"That's why I play footy, that's why I'm training, that's why I'm doing what I'm doing today, to play NRL. That's my dream and the Intrust Super Cup has got some really great players running around in it at the moment and I believe it's the reserve grade to NRL.
"If you're putting your hand up week in and week out in the Intrust Super Cup and your opportunity comes you never know what can happen."
Following stints with the Rabbitohs, Titans, Broncos and Panthers, Luke Capewell has returned to the Intrust Super Cup to captain Redcliffe in 2015 and believes the exposure to a tougher level of competition will enable the likes of teammate Evander Cummins to become NRL-ready.
"He's come a long way Evander," Capewell said. "He's settled in pretty good and he's definitely trained pretty hard and is looking strong and fit but it's hard to get a gauge, we've only played the one trial.
"I thought he played pretty well and he's definitely a talent, that's for sure.
"It makes them more mentally tough and physically tough but just getting into that grind of playing each week, I know it's made me a better player going through the same thing."
While the majority of Intrust Super Cup clubs will receive an injection of NRL-contracted talent on a weekly basis, others such as Foster and Tia Kilifi are permanent additions to the competition, at least for the time being.
With Sunshine Coast taking some of the Storm allocation of players from Easts, Tigers captain Dane Hogan – who played 10 games for the Cowboys in 2010 – said the addition of Indigenous All Star Foster is a welcome one.
"He's come back from the Raiders and been here all pre-season," Hogan said of the former Raider and Bulldog. "He's a very good pick-up seeing as though we lost some strong players but gaining the likes of him and Joel Romelo is pretty good.
"You can definitely see he's got a mature head on him and he's been bringing a lot to training and a lot of experience. You can see he's definitely a quality player.
"Most of the guys in the Intrust Super Cup still have that little bit of a dream to go up to the next level but the only way to do that is to play good football for your Intrust Super Cup club and see where that takes you."
Defending premiers the Northern Pride open their title defence with a grand final rematch against Easts at Langlands Park on Sunday with Cowboys players Lachlan Coote, Javid Bowen and Ben Spina bolstering the squad.
The arrival of Tia Kilifi came about following his barnstorming performance for the Panthers against the Pride in last year's State Championship and Pride captain Jason Roos has no doubt that there is still very much an NRL career in the 22-year-old's future.
"He was a very good buy, a good, solid second-rower and hopefully he can cause a few headaches for the opposition," Roos said.
"He's come into this environment and seen what we're doing as a club and as a team and you have to buy into it if you want to be successful. If he buys into it and applies himself I can see him going on further to another level. He's definitely got the ability.
"We've got another young prop, Jack Svendsen, who come through the Cowboys 20s system. When he first came back he was getting a bit disheartened not getting into the side each week and he's really taken on the role the last couple of years.
"He's really stepped up and there's definitely a bit of a jump there and it takes a bit of time for the boys to get used to it."
Click here for previews of all seven Intrust Super Cup Round 1 matches.