RYAN Long used to run around Laurieton Oval imagining it was ANZ Stadium.
In about eight months time, the 15-year-old former Camden Haven Eagle could run around in a sky blue jersey on one of the biggest stages of all.
A lot of water has to pass under the bridge before that becomes a reality, but he’s on the right path.
Four weeks ago, Long was selected to tour Papua New Guinea with the NSW Young Achievers squad.
It was made up of some of the best players around the state in his age group and he had the privilege of being presented his jersey by Canterbury Bulldog Josh Jackson.
He said he experience in PNG was a bit of an eye-opener, but it had one effect on him – to make sure you appreciate what you have.
“It’s just how much they love football over there,” he said.
“They may not have much, but they make the most of it.
“You’d walk around the streets on the Aroma Coast and after training you’d walk off the field and kids from the little villages would come running over asking for photos.
“You’re like Gods over there – it’s a whole new world.”
Long was selected for the tour after making an impression with talent scouts who had seen him in action at the country championships.
You’d walk around the streets on the Aroma Coast and after training you’d walk off the field and kids from the little villages would come running over asking for photos.Ryan Long
He continues to impress the right people after being selected in the Newcastle Knights under-16 Harold Matthews train-on squad for 2018.
“From this spot, we’ve got 43 pre-season sessions, a couple of trial games and then round one starts,” he said.
The teenager progressed through the Knights ranks after he was selected in their under-15 development squad at the start of 2017.
He said “it now means more footy in the summer” ahead of another season.
“From last year now I know I have to keep working hard and now know what I’ve got to do to stay in there,” he said.
“It’s a really good setup for all the kids down there and it’s going to be hard travelling three times a week, but I’ll get used to it.”
I used to run around this field (at Laurieton Oval) thinking it was ANZ Stadium, but now I might be able to play on a ground like it with the Origin next year.Ryan Long
The team will be coached by retired Knight and North Queensland Cowboys premiership-winning utility Rory Kostjasyn.
Long’s goal of representing the Blues in next year’s under-16 State of Origin fixture remains one he believes can be achieved.
“I used to run around this field (at Laurieton Oval) thinking it was ANZ Stadium, but now I might be able to play on a ground like it with the Origin next year,” he said.
“If that doesn’t happen, I’m happy to have gone to Papua New Guinea and been picked in this team; I’ll keep moving through the steps of Newcastle’s junior development squads.”