Canterbury’s potential long-term halves combination will run out for the first time together for the Club tomorrow as the NSWRL junior reps season kicks off across the state.
Highly touted teenagers Mitchell Woods and Alex Conti have been named in the halves for the Bulldogs’ SG Ball side to face Sydney Roosters on Saturday at Belmore Sports Ground.
Woods is one of the brightest young sporting talents in the country and recently signed a four-year deal with the Bulldogs until the end of 2027 despite interest from rival clubs and codes.
He captained the Bulldogs’ premiership-winning Harold Matthews side in 2023 and there’s hopes he will mature into a halfback of the future, anticipated to join training with the Club’s NRL squad from next season.
Conti, a Wests Tigers junior and gun five-eighth, made the switch to the Bulldogs this season after captaining Balmain’s Harold Matthews side last year.
The pair are schoolmates from St Patricks College in Strathfield and represented NSW Combined Independent Schools in the Australian Secondary Schools Championships last year.
And if the combination works as hoped, they could represent the future of the Bulldogs’ halves pairing.
“Alex and Mitch are good mates. They always know each other’s game really well,” said Bulldogs SG Ball Head Coach Steve Turner ("Zap").
A rebuild of the Club’s pathways system has been a huge focus for football boss (General Manager of Football) Phil Gould over recent years.
While the Bulldogs are careful not to heap undue pressure on rising stars, the goal is to develop players for long-term success.
“Gus has got a passion for pathways and invests in pathways," Turner said.
“Last year (the Bulldogs) were successful with the Harold Matts and Jersey Flegg. It’s the way to go moving forward, investing in the pathways to hopefully produce first-graders for long term success. I’ve seen that improvement over the last couple of years.
“There’s a heap of the boys from the Harold Matts team in my SG Ball side, first-year players. That’s the pathway, that’s the development. Once the SG Ball season finishes you hope they go on and get some time in the Jersey Flegg team and then who knows where they’ll be in 12 to 18 months time. They’ve done a really good job."
The Club's philosophy with development is teaching players what’s required to train like an NRL player.
“That’s been my philosophy. It’s about the care you give them to make them better players, but better people as well. If we can have that as part of our pathways that will transfer when they go up the grades and hopefully we see some of these kids in the first-grade system.”
Originally published as Rugby league: Who to watch in Harold Matthews, SG Ball, Tarsha Gale Cup and Lisa Fiaola Cup; article courtesy of Pamela Whaley, News Corp Australia