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Teen star tipped to be Dragons' best home-grown playmaker

Jayden Sullivan has the face of his father Jason tattooed on the back of his leg as a reminder of the influence he has had on the rise of the 18-year-old some believe could become St George Illawarra's best locally produced playmaker.

Sullivan, who grew up in Port Kembla but calls the nearby Coomaditchie Mission "home", is considered an integral part of the Dragons' future as one of eight players signed for at least the next three seasons, along with Ben Hunt, Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims, Blake Lawrie, Zac Lomax and Jason Saab.

Rookie centre Shaun Sauno-Esau is the other, and like Sullivan the St George junior is on a development contract and yet to make his NRL debut.

That opportunity could come for Sullivan after June 30 if Ben Hunt or Corey Norman are on State of Origin duty but the teen halfback insists he is in no rush as he learns the ropes from the club's likely next captain Cameron McInness, who has been driving him to training most days.

McInness has taken Sullivan under his wing and he is not only learning what is required to play NRL but "just to be a good bloke" from the 25-year-old hooker he described as "the best bloke ever".

"With me being so young anybody older than me is a role model, even the boys who haven't played NRL yet," Sullivan said.

Jayden Sullivan and his father Jason at the Koori Knockout.
Jayden Sullivan and his father Jason at the Koori Knockout. ©Facebook

However, there is little doubt who the NSW under 18s representative and captain of last season's SG Ball-winning Illawarra team looks up to most.

"There are too many good words to describe my father," Sullivan said. "He is tattooed on my leg. I have got his face tattooed on the back of my leg.

"It's not every day you will see a father-son bond that is out of this world but that is what we have got."

Jason Sullivan is an Illawarra rugby league stalwart and some believe he could have played for the Steelers but work and family commitments took priority.

After helping Port Kembla to the reserve grade grand final this season, he played alongside Jayden in the South Coast Black Cockatoos team which won the Koori Knockout in October.

"He didn't get to play that many minutes because of his age but I got to play four games with him and that meant so much to me and my family," Jayden said.

Sullivan is one of nine siblings and he, along with sister Courtney, was raised by his father after their parents separated when he was younger.

"I had a bit of a rough upbringing but that is not anyone's fault and my dad's always been there," he said. "I try not to look backwards. It's like 'Mary' [Dragons coach Paul McGregor] said, 'you can't worry about the past, you have just got to keep moving forward'.

"My family is really important to me and we lived in Port Kembla about three streets away from Coomaditchie where dad grew up. That is always going to be our home, there are a lot of good people in that mission and we'll never not be welcome there."

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A representative touch and tag player, Sullivan began playing league as a six-year-old for Berkeley and was a member of a star-studded Collegians team which included Bulldogs recruit Aaron Schoup and Sharks SG Ball squad members Jesse Colquhoun, Max Devlin and Thomas Rodwell.

After captaining the Steelers SG Ball team to premiership success and playing five-eighth for St George Illawarra's under 20s Jersey Flegg team, the Wests Devils junior was signed on a three-year contract from 2020.

"We bought him into full-time training when he finished SG Ball earlier this year to try and help him become more physically advanced than most development players," Dragons director of pathways and list management Ian Millward said.

"He was an integral part of our SG Ball team winning the comp as captain and halfback, and he has got one year as a development player and then two years as a member of our top 30.

"If you are asking whether he could play this year I am past saying 'no'. We all get excited if we can develop a really good halfback because halfbacks are your marquee players.

"He has still got a lot of work to do but we look upon him as a long term Dragon and he is part of our succession plan.

"Of our top 36 players, just over 50 per cent have come through our pathways system and over the past four years we have been averaging 3.5 players making their NRL debut with our club so we are developing players for the game."

Sullivan said his goal was to play NRL next season but at just 80kg he is prepared to bide his time until McGregor believes he is ready.

"I am not in a rush. I want to be the most capable I can be, the best body weight and all of that," Sullivan said. "It isn't just about playing well, you have to train good, you have to eat good and do the work to get to that position in the NRL."