Colin Sanctuary couldn’t help but smile as he put a group of young Newcastle Knights players through their paces in their very first session of the 2016 pre-season.
The sense of satisfaction for the Knights’ Head of Physical Development didn’t come from seeing them punished in the humid Monday morning heat after the off season break.
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It came from the fact he was preparing a group of aspiring first grade players to join NRL pre-season training later in the week.
For Sanctuary, witnessing a group of players who have progressed from the ranks of the Knights' junior development system to take their place alongside NRL stars is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.
“I’m probably slightly biased after having quite a lot to do with these kids coming through. When I first started working with them when they were 15, 16, 17-years-old,” Sanctuary told Knights TV.
“To see them where they are now…it’s really exciting because they are the future of the Club.”
Half a dozen players from the NYC Under 20s and NSW Cup competitions have been identified to train with first grade with the view of taking their football and personal growth to the next level.
It’s considered the opportunity of a lifetime for many of the players and one they’re determined to grasp with both hands.
“It was first day back, so I think they were a little bit nervous about what’s in store for them and what we we're going to be doing,” he added.
On their return to Knights HQ the players underwent movement screens with the Club’s physiotherapists before the players took to the field for a running and speed session.
From all accounts the players returned in good shape and with infectious enthusiasm, ready to make the most of their big opportunity.
“The benchmarks were there so they knew if they didn’t come back in a decent state, you have to work and there’s consequences off the back of that,” he said.
Throwing talented young players with plenty of potential into the rigors of fulltime pre-season training aims to grow and develop them into successful and mature young men.
“I think the fulltime NRL environment is a really challenging one,” he added.
“Doing the training day in and day out sounds great, but the reality of playing in that environment is so much different.
“This is a stepping-stone for these guys who have been identified and are transitioning, it’s a good progression for them.
“It phases them in, in a more gradual way.”
While the players passed initial testing with ease, Sanctuary says it will be a different story when they join the NRL players later in the week.
“That will be a totally different challenge all together, but I’m sure they will enjoy it,” he said.
Two success stories of the Knights’ development system are Brock Lamb and Jack Cogger.
Both joined the Club as young teenagers and emerged as stand out performers in the Harold Matthews and SG Ball competitions, which secured them starting spots in the NYC Knights' team in 2015.
The 18-year-olds have formed a dynamic halves partnership and will continue the journey together when they embark on the Knights’ grueling NRL pre-season training.
“It’s definitely exciting to step up... we get to mix it with the big boys now,” Lamb said.
The Maitland Junior was pleased with his fitness level and is eager to test himself against his NRL counterparts when the chance comes around.
“My fitness can always be better, but it wasn’t too bad so hopefully I can get through it pretty easily," Lamb added.
While many of the players return to the pre-season paddock well rested from the off season, Cogger has swapped an exam room for the training field after recently graduating high school.
“I just finished the HSC last week and straight into training today,” Cogger said.
“Training with experienced people, it’s just going to change my whole game. I’m going to learn.
“You have your big goals and you want to have your little ones along the way.
“They are definitely in place and hopefully I can achieve them, along the way and keep going from there.
“My ultimate goal is to play NRL, whenever that may be. There’s a lot in between, but that’s the ultimate goal.”
With the emerging players getting through their first test, it is over to the NRL squad on Thursday.