The Western Rams junior academy programs have gone from strength to strength in recent years and the results have been clear but the involvement of the Penrith Panthers has helped take it to a whole new level.
The Western Rams satellite academies are in progress at the moment, the third session at Dubbo was held on Thursday evening, while there are also sessions being run at Forbes and Bathurst.
This year marks the first time the academy has been run since the Panthers linked up with the Western area in order to improve not only junior development but also all of rugby league in the region.
Andy Haycock, alongside a number of other coaches and mentors, runs the sessions at St John’s College and has seen the improvements first hand.
“Every year we’ve got better and the proof of the success is our (Western) 16s and 18s made the finals two years ago and last year they both won it,” he said.
“It’s been a bit of a wow moment having Penrith come onboard because it’s gone to another level again.
“They’ve given assistance in coaching drills and Ben Harden, their academy coach, came and spent a couple of hours here, at Forbes and Bathurst and that was really good.”
Haycock went as far to say Harden seminar with the coaches “was as good as any coaching update” he and the likes of fellow Dubbo academy mentors Luke Jenkins and Bernard Wilson had seen.
“The kids are becoming better footballers but we’re also becoming better coaches and administrators too,” Haycock added.
“There’s the benefit of having a connection with an NRL club too and it’s nice to feel that. Sometime you don’t know if people in Sydney realise we’re here but they (Penrith) definitely do.”
Haycock stated the mantra coming from Penrith, led by High Performance Manager Matt Cameron, is ‘creating better footballers but better people first’.
The making better footballers is already clearly happening. Gym work has been added to the academy sessions this year but it’s not all about lifting weights. The Penrith-assisted program gives the promising juniors the technique to achieve so they are well-placed to improve going forward.
Then there is also a field session where Jenkins and Shawn Townsend have been running “intense and structured” training with the 16s and 18s players.
“We’re trying to give them the core skills and also open their eyes to the discipline needed if they go on down that next path,” Haycock said.
Juniors from Dubbo have been joined at the St John’s sessions by players from Mudgee, Wellington and Nyngan while one has even been making the three-and-a-half hour journey from Bourke.
There’s two more satellite sessions to be run before a break over Christmas and New Years while there will also be an in-house trial next weekend to allow Haycock and the other coaches a chance to see the players in a game situation.
The current extended squads will be cut in January before officials from Penrith make a trip west to speak to the group.
That will lead into the final Rams squads being named for the 2018 representative campaign.