More Victorian-bred players are set to follow in the footsteps of Dean Ieremia, Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Najvada George, with the state’s men’s and women’s representative teams due to begin accessing a new $20 million high performance facility later this year.
Seabrook Reserve, in Melbourne’s north, will be the headquarters for the NRL Victoria administration and a base for the Thunderbolts’ SG Ball and Jersey Flegg teams, along with a future Melbourne Storm NRLW side.
The project, which is funded by the Victorian Government and Hume Council is scheduled for completion later in the year and NRL Victoria GM Brent Silva said it would be a massive boost for the development of elite male and female players.
“Pre-Covid we had 14 years of year-on-year growth, so the sport has been growing fantastically well during the period, but we have not had a facility that we have access to 365 days of the year,” Silva said.
“That is very challenging when you are trying to provide programs for juniors based in Victoria to make their way to the NRL, and we have had to act like nomads and borrow grounds from either our clubs or other sporting groups for our teams to train on.”
Ieremia, a Sunbury Tigers junior, last season became the fourth Victorian player to debut for the Storm after Mahe Fonua (South Eastern Titans), Young Tonumaipea and Richie Kennar (both Northern Thunder).
Taunoa-Brown (Altona Roosters), who has joined the Cowboys this season after stints with the Warriors and Dragons, and Wests Tigers forward Kelma Tuilagi (Casey Warriors) are others to have made the transition from the local Victorian competition to the NRL.
There have also been three NRLW players from Victoria - Najvada George, Oneata Schwalger (both Dragons) and Tasia Seumanufagai (Warriors).
A fourth, Brooke Walker, signed with Parramatta but has returned to AFL after the 2021 NRL Telstra Women's Premiership was postponed until February 2022.
“If the Melbourne Storm ever get an NRLW team, one of the biggest challenges they have had is that there is nowhere for them to train,” Silva said.
“AAMI Park is a shared facility, and it is at capacity, so they wouldn’t be able to get on site there. That is one of the things we worked with government about trying to get funding for.
“They were very keen to have a Victorian team in the NRLW and we said we can’t have one because we don’t have anywhere for them to train so it has helped the cause around advocating for funding.”
The construction of the new ground will also enable Victoria to host a National Championships or Affiliated States Championships for the first time, while Touch Football Victoria will also be based at Seabrook Reserve.
“It is done in partnership with touch football as well so they will have their administration join us in the office and all of their high-performance programs will be based there as well,” Silva said.
“They have got an opportunity to host championships, and that has been a challenge for us. For the past 12 plus years we have not hosted a National Championships or even an Affiliated States Championships because we have either got to use a club facility or AAMI Park, and you need something in between.
“This allows us to do that, so it is quite significant for the code in Victoria.
Silva said turf was due to be laid in March and the playing field should be available to use for training later in the season by the Thunderbolts SG Ball and Jersey Flegg teams, as well Victoria’s squad for the Women’s National Championships.