Frei ready to realise NRL dream at Roosters
He was an outstanding schoolboy prospect who spent time with both the Broncos and Knights but it has taken two years in the Intrust Super Cup to prepare Mitchell Frei for life in the NRL.
Only a small percentage of players can make an immediate transition from the under-20s competition through to the NRL and with his giant frame the former Junior Kangaroo appeared to be one who fit the criteria.
But having first come to the attention of NRL clubs playing alongside the likes of Corey Norman, Dane Gagai and Kurt Baptiste in the Broncos under-20s in 2011-12, Frei moved to Newcastle in 2013 to work with Wayne Bennett at the Knights before returning to Brisbane with the lure of rejoining the NRL squad.
That opportunity at the Broncos failed to eventuate but after two magnificent seasons for Wynnum Manly Frei has been snapped up by the Roosters on a one-year deal from 2016.
The 23-year-old Intrust Super Cup Lock of the Year didn't jump instantly at the first NRL offer presented to him, preferring to first see how he could add to the Roosters system and how it could benefit him before signing on with Trent Robinson's team.
"Now that I'm a bit older and a bit more mature it's only going to help, being in a system before," Frei told NRL.com.
"I went down to visit the boys at the Roosters and they welcomed me with open arms.
"The club they've got there was very friendly and made me feel welcome right from the start.
"It's a pretty cut-throat business so I didn't have my mind set that I was going there until I was lucky enough to have a trip down there to sign the contract.
"As soon as I went down there I met with Peter O'Sullivan and Trent Robinson and the way they treated me was unbelievable.
"I thought I was a million-dollar player with how much respect and how well they treated me and looked after me while I was there for a short time so I'm really looking forward to the experience."
Former graduates of the under-20s competition scooped the pool at the Queensland Rugby League gala dinner on Wednesday night with former Bulldog Patrick Templeman named best and fairest and Jahrome Hughes (Titans), Marmin Barba (Eels), Kyle Feldt (Cowboys), Michael Parker-Walshe (Cowboys), Daniel Beasley (Cowboys), Anthony Cherrington (Roosters) and Josh Chudleigh (Cowboys) all named as best players in their respective positions for 2015.
With ongoing discussions regarding the optimal pathways for young players to emerge and transition into the NRL, Frei said that he was under no illusions that he would progress straight from 20s into first grade, crediting the Intrust Super Cup for further developing his game.
"As a forward you have to bide your time and wait until your body is ready," Frei said.
"It's a tough game these days and you're never going to jump straight into a first grade team when you're 20 years old.
"For me it was about maturing and hopefully I've done that now.
"Everyone knows that NRL clubs are starting to send their players that they look to play NRL to the Intrust Super Cup and NSW Cup just because it's got your older blokes and they're more physical.
"I personally think you can only get better playing in this competition."
As for his 22-year-old teammate at Wynnum Manly who set new point-scoring records in the NYC two years ago, Frei is confident NRL clubs will soon come calling for Patrick Templeman.
"I think he's guaranteed to get picked up soon after the year he's had," Frei said.
"If he can keep doing that it's only a matter of time before he's playing first grade frequently.
"You just have to look at the people that have won this award such as Luke Page last year who has now played NRL... I think it's just a matter of time before we see Patty progress to the next level."