The next generation of potential NRL footy stars hit their straps at Gunnedah’s Kitchener Park last week.

The juniors were taking part in the NRL’s Road to Regions development program.

NRL players past and present joined the youngsters to share tips and advice about the game.

Among them was former Canberra Raiders and NSW Country backrower Alan Tongue, who conceded many of the current playing group were probably unaware of his playing career during the 2000s.

“I’m a bit old for that era now I think,” he said.

The Gunnedah venue was also familiar territory for Tongue, a former Tamworth schoolboy.

“From what I remember as a young kid playing my junior footy, Gunnedah was so strong – it’s great to see so many boys and girls getting into it,” she said. 

Tongue said the Gunnedah skills session was as much about the footy as it was meeting some of the game’s elite.

“Today is about having fun, having a go and a chance to rub shoulders with our NRL and NRL W players,” he said.

“[The juniors] are always interested in the players’ stories, where they grew up, what they loved about school and junior footy. 

“It’s not just about scoring tries on the TV, they get to understand a bit more about their story which is fantastic.”

Another player helping to guide the Gunnedah juniors was Newcastle Knights’ five-eighth Jesse Southwell, who represents in the National Women’s Rugby League competition.

The self-described “city girl” said it was great getting out into the regions and into rugby league heartland like Gunnedah.

“This is where future NRL players could be,” she said.

The first female player signed to the Newcastle club, Southwell said ‘anything is possible now’ for women in the sport.

“Girls have a pathway all the way through now, it’s so exciting to see the new prospects,” she said.

Another to make an appearance was Wests Tigers forward, Justin Matamua.

Despite being still in his teens, the rising club junior has already starred in two first grade appearances for the club since his debut last year.

Matamua said it was a privilege to be involved with the regional development program.

“Seeing the next generation coming through and to see how happy they are to play footy is a real honour,” he said. 

The NSW U19 State of Origin representative also offered some words of advice to those aspiring to reach the game’s top level.

“Always stay committed, there will be times when you are hit by adversity and have tough times but you just need to be resilient, keep remembering your goals and keep pushing forward,” he said.

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