It’s 5pm at Newcastle Knights headquarters and dozens of teenage rugby league players have converged on the Club’s training facilities.
It’s the first session of the 2016 High Performance Unit (HPU), a holistic 12-week program that was established in 2012 to develop promising young players both on and off the field.
Proudly wearing their freshly issued red and blue training gear, the atmosphere bursts with a sense of nervous excitement as the aspiring Knights embark on a opportunity they know may well bring them a step closer to their dream of one day playing first grade for the Club.
Alex McKinnon, the Newcastle Knights' Junior Development Manager, is passionate about this next crop of talent flowing through the Club.
His role oversees the recruitment and development of players under the age of 20-years-old.
“It’s a select group from each age group starting at 13s all the way through to under 17s with players hand picked by our catchment area scouts and selectors,” he explains.
“We endeavor to improve the player holistically in regards to nutrition…social media, physical development and on field development.
“The main focus for us, is to bring those players through our system and make sure they know what it means to play for Newcastle at a young age and bring them though into first grade.”
Newcastle has a strong culture of identifying and nurturing junior talent, which has most recently been on show with a multitude of Knights juniors promoted through the ranks to first grade.
“The benefit is what the Club is seeing at the moment,” he explains.
“You see people like Jack Cogger, Brock Lamb, Sione Mata’utia, Cory Denniss, Josh King and Jake Mamo, players like that who were originally in the 2012 HPU and they have been able to deliver good performances on the field and evidently help the club win some games."
It’s also the third year the Knights under 16s and 18s sides have cemented spots in their respective competition finals.
High Performance Unit coach Scott Dureau knows better than anyone the value of investing in junior development. He was a part of the Knights’ junior system before making his first grade debut in the red and blue in 2007.
After recently returning from a stint playing in the English Super League, Dureau has reconnected with the Club with the hope to play an integral role in ensuring the Knights continue to produce talented and passionate local players.
“We think we have picked the best of the best kids throughout the Newcastle region,” the Port Macquarie Sharks junior says.
“They will go through a program over the next 12 weeks that will hopefully make them better players and better people."
The afternoon’s HPU induction session sees the coaching staff meticulously measure and record the height, weight and biomechanical movements of each player.
“In 12 weeks time when they finish the program we will re-test and see if there are some improvements,” he says.
“It’s a holistic program, hopefully we can improve them as players and people.
“It’s about being a good person and a good football player.”