Connor Watson a star on the rise
Connor Watson looks set to be one of the NRL stars of the future, but the 19-year-old Roosters playmaker revealed to NRL.com that he was almost lost to the game after switching to rugby union in his late teens.
Born in Dubbo, Watson moved to Avoca Beach on the Central Coast when he was five years old and that's where his passion for rugby league was formed.
"I grew up there until I was about 16. I played my junior footy for Kincumber Colts and then I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to go to Knox Grammar," he said.
"I was playing rugby union there, and I was playing outside centre, but I was a bit frustrated because I was missing rugby league.
"It's what I grew up playing and it's what I loved. Union was good and it gave me the opportunity to play at a great school and get a good education at Knox, but I was really missing league."
Desperate to return to the 13-man-game, Watson was contacted by a mutual friend to join the South Eastern Seagulls in a Sunday competition.
It was a decision that would shape his career. That Seagulls' squad contained current Holden Cup players Grant Garvey (Roosters), Nat Butcher (Roosters), Liam Cottrell (Rabbitohs) and Tevita Cottrell (Rabbitohs).
From there, Watson was scouted by Roosters recruitment officer Peter O'Sullivan who convinced him to sign with the Tricolours.
"I was a bit frustrated at the time so I said I'd play," the Roosters rookie told NRL.com.
"We had a really good side, and I think 'Sully' came down and watched us play. He asked me to come play SG Ball.
"It was a bit tough for me because I was travelling from school and I could only train one day a week. Rugby union had to remain my first preference because that's where I was going to school, so I didn't play a lot of SG Ball.
"I think I only played about five games of SG Ball but I ended up playing in the grand final which was unreal. I came off the bench in that game and just after that Sully and the club offered me a contract. I loved the joint after that season so I wasn't going to go anywhere else."
Like most of O'Sullivan's protégés, Watson thrived form the get-go, winning the Arthur Beetson Medal as the Roosters' best player in the Holden Cup in 2015.
He scored 18 tries in just 20 games, including four tries against the Dragons on Anzac Day. Fittingly, he looks set to play his second NRL match in the prestigious annual clash on Monday afternoon.
Watson has only played four matches in the Holden Cup this year, but has already scored six tries, including a hat-trick in the Round 6 win over South Sydney, and while he might not return there anytime soon, it's a competition he holds dear.
"I've been floating in between the two grades. I really enjoy playing in the 20s. It's good fun and it's great to play with guys who have been my mates for the past couple of years," he said.
"To play with them is a good experience and when I go back I really enjoy it. Nat Butcher has been playing some really good footy, and we've all seen what Latrell [Mitchell] has done in grade this year."
Undoubtedly one of the stars of the junior competition, Watson told NRL.com that he is desperate to play under-20s State of Origin this year after injury cruelled his shot in 2015.
The 19-year-old was a member of an extended NSW under-20s squad chosen in December last year, and could be in line to represent his state on July 13.
"That's definitely one of my ambitions this year. That was the goal last year as well, but I had an ankle injury so I was unable to be up for contention," he said.
"We did the Origin Pathways so I was involved with that camp at Narrabeen which was a great experience. I was coming back from ankle surgery so I didn't get to train, but just to be around the boys was good. I was able to meet Laurie and the rest of the crew there which was amazing."