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Show of Endeavour: Sydney school set to shine

Renowned rugby league nursery Endeavour Sports High School will be represented by a remarkable four former students in Sunday's NRL grand final in Brisbane.

Rabbitohs pair Alex Johnston and Damien Cook and Panthers duo Scott Sorensen and Paul Momirovski all developed at the southern Sydney school, which has produced a plethora of sporting stars.

Other Endeavour alumni to have cracked the NRL include Jamayne Isaako, Martin Taupau, Blake Ferguson, Shaun Lane, Reece Robson, Joseph and Luciano Leilua, Justin Poore and Beau Champion.

While Cook moved to Wollongong's Illawarra Sports High in Year 11, Johnston, Momirovski and Sorensen maintain a connection to Endeavour as winners of the rugby league program's prestigious Dau Medal.

"It's named after one of the boys from school who tragically got killed in a car accident," said Jeff Hardy, who took up a role at the school after a distinguished first-grade career ended in 2000.

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"It's based on not only on-field performances but off-field performances – how you are around the school as a student, how you are in the program as a trainer, as a role model.

"Those three boys were just exceptional in all areas of school."

Long-time coaches Hardy and Dave Howlett recall the four grand finalists as thoroughly decent people who worked extremely hard.

Their ages are staggered, but Howlett remembers Cook, 30, and Sorensen, 28, playing for the school together while Johnston, 26, and Momirovski, 25, also played on the same Endeavour team.

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South Sydney winger Johnston – who made his NRL debut and won a premiership just two years after he was the 2012 dux of Endeavour – is the most naturally gifted of the quartet.

And he didn't start out in Endeavour's rugby league program, beginning in athletics before switching his focus to cricket.

"He scored centuries in cricket," Hardy said.

"He played a bit of footy in the school teams in Year 10," Howlett added. "He was close to a couple of the boys in the footy program including Shaun Lane, so he jumped over in Year 11."

Principal James Kozlowski said Johnston had been inducted into the school's recent sporting Hall of Fame alongside cyclist Kaarle McCulloch, soccer player Teresa Polias and swimmer Craig Stevens.

"My involvement with Alex has taught me that you can be a really highly successful athlete, remain humble and achieve in other facets of your life," said Kozlowski, who joined Endeavour in 2015.

Johnston, who mostly played his schoolboy footy at fullback, achieved an ATAR score of 92 and Kozlowski said he was proof that "academic and sporting success aren't mutually exclusive".

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Such was Johnston's ability that he played for Endeavour's senior team as a 16-year-old, according to Howlett, and was "close to if not the best player in the team as well as the next year at 17".

For Sorensen, Momirovski and Cook, things didn't fall into place quite so easily and they had to push through adversity to reach the top.

Sorensen, who will play as an interchange forward for Penrith, began his career as a halfback in Cronulla's Harold Matthews Cup team.

"He's an absolute machine with the way he trains and the way he dedicates himself. He's still exactly the same," Howlett said.

"He wasn't the most skilful of players, he wasn't overly quick, he wasn't the sort of person that could create space and pull teams apart.

"So he said, 'If that's not me, I'm going to transform myself', and he turned into a hooker/lock and then an edge back-rower.

"He's done it all himself. He was in and out of the Harold Matthews [under 16s] team, didn't make any schoolboy rep teams at all and he just had a really good year of under 20s."

Nothing was handed to Sorensen even after he debuted in 2014 and twice he's fought back when his career looked to be fizzling out.

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"I just feel like I'm playing rugby league today because I went to Endeavour High School," said Sorensen, who signed with the Panthers in January after looking into a Super League move.

"I absolutely loved it. Very fond memories there, I loved my time at school, especially in the rugby league program."

Cook was another who had to persevere.

"He wasn't out-of-the-box exceptional, but he was one of the ones that got better and better as he got older as well," Hardy said.

"But he always had outstanding speed."

"I enjoy his journey because he was really small in Year 7 and 8," Howlett said of the New South Wales and Australian hooker.

"He never really grew until later. He was a similar story to Soro – on the fringe of teams, always hanging on, signing contracts from year to year. A good kid that trains hard and got his just reward in the end."

Momirovski, meanwhile, always had an advanced mindset.

"He had a professional attitude with his footy at 15," Howlett said.

"Compare him to AJ, he wasn't athletically gifted like Alex was, but he just worked super hard. The fact that he's not just an athlete sets him apart from other centres.

"He can create space, read the game and position his winger. Whereas a lot of other centres in the NRL are athletes first, he's a footballer."

While Endeavour is sports-focused, the school's ultimate aim is to mould well-rounded people. Students must abide by a High Expectations Policy in order to participate in sporting programs.

The policy is built on three main pillars: attendance, consistently good behaviour and application to studies.

"If any of those three things are not up to the standard we expect then that particular student is stood down from the full benefits of the Targeted Sports Program for five weeks," Kozlowski said

"That's not a punishment, but to get them back on track and to make sure that we refocus their attention and prioritise their learning.

"The mantra we have is that a sporting career can be over in a heartbeat, but an education is for life. That's been a really important aspect of establishing that culture."

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The affinity that graduates have for Endeavour is a testament to the school's "family atmosphere", said Hardy. The likes of Johnston still take part in the rugby league program's awards night.

"You're a person first and you play footy. It's being a good person, being a good team person, being part of the family," Hardy said.

"We have values. Respect is one of them, personal best and family. That's our culture. You've always got to try your best."

Current restrictions and school holidays mean that Endeavour won't be able to celebrate the grand final as it otherwise may have.

"But I'm sure through social media there'll be a lot of shared excitement," Kozlowski said.

"And when we get back to school and we're able to have people on-site from outside the school, it'd be great to have all of those four boys back to recognise their success."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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