Academy a bond for rival players

THE GWYDIR Highway corridor is well represented in this year’s Wests Greater Northern Academy squad and is a prime example of players from rival clubs coming together for the summer program.

Three of the boys from that part of the world who are training with the GNA are James Ballinger, Jayden Connors and Wade Campbell.

Ballinger is from Delungra and plays for Inverell, Connors lives in Inverell but is a Tingha Tiger on the field, while Campbell plays for his hometown club, the Glen Innes Magpies.

But while they all play for rival clubs in the winter they are now teammates at the academy.

Ballinger is a rangy front rower-second rower who played both under 16s and 18s for the Hawks this year.

After a few lean years he hopes to help Inverell get back to the top of the junior rankings in Group 19 in 2013.

The Group 19 rep hopes the academy will help him improve his own game.

“We do a lot of training,” he said.

“We do fitness and strength training and things like ball skills.

“I want to do the best that I can in trials for Group 19 and that sort of thing.”

The 16-year-old is a Roosters fan so maybe he can gain some inspiration from Sonny Bill  Williams next 

season.

The two are a similar shape.

Connors certainly seems to model his game on two of his favourite players.

The 17-year-old is a big fan of Ben Barba and Benji Marshall and watching the dynamic fullback or half run around for the Tigers is like watching those two NRL stars.

He is happy to play either position and played all three senior grades for Tingha this year, including plenty of first grade.

He said that was a good experience, especially learning from the senior players.

The academy will now help him improve even further.

“It’s good,” Connors said.

“You meet new mates and learn new skills.

“I want to stay injury-free and get fitter and put some weight on.”

Campbell is a big centre who is already on a pathway to the NRL.

He is a Penrith fan but has to keep that a little bit quiet because, like several other Glen Innes High School players, he is under scholarship with St George-Illawarra.

The 17-year-old said the GNA teaches players that every little bit counts.

“They’re pretty particular about the little things, the one per centers,” he said.

Campbell played in this year’s Group 19 grand final in which the Magpies lost to Armidale.

He hopes to end a run of bad luck in grand finals and also play first grade in 2013.

“It’s four (losses) in a row,” he said.

“I’ll play juniors again and hopefully first grade.”

The three boys joined the rest of their GNA teammates for training at Scully Park in Tamworth on Sunday and have one more session before the end of the year.

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