While the present is bright enough for the Cronulla Sharks as they prepare for Sunday’s NRL grand final against Melbourne, it’s worth noting the future is looking just as bright thanks to the likes of Jayden Brailey.
The former Australian Schoolboys hooker was named the Dally M Holden Cup under-20s player of the year on Wednesday night to cap a strong personal season.
The young Sharks finished the Holden Cup season fourth but lost their two semi-finals – against grand finalists Penrith and the Sydney Roosters – to end their campaign.
And for 20-year-old Brailey, who was also chosen in the Holden Cup team of the year, there was clear motivation to have a big season.
The hurt of missing out on the NSW under-20s team midway through the year gave him the drive to work even harder on his game – and the results have spoken for themselves.
Brailey told the Leader that disappointment had proved to be the inspiration to drive his excellent season.
“I was pretty happy with my season but I missed out on a couple of rep teams through the year and that kind of motivated me to kick on a bit harder,” he said.
“I was lucky I had a good pre-season with first grade and I took a lot out of that.
“The NSW [under-] 20s, I was hoping to be in that but it wasn’t meant to be.
“It kind of pushed me to play better and just at the back end of the season I guess gave me the motivation.”
Brailey is also a product of the Sharks’ system, having played in the club’s junior development teams before joining Cronulla’s Harold Matthews Cup under-16s side and has been in the black, white and blue ever since.
The Aquinas Colts junior knows he still has a lot of development in him but said he dreamed of playing first grade with Cronulla. And, with veteran hooker Michael Ennis retiring after the grand final, Brailey is ready to put his best foot forward.
“I want to play first grade, that’s the reason why you play footy,” he said.
“There’s still a lot of things I need to get right and things I need to do in the off-season. Hopefully I can do that and give it my best shot next year.
“Watching blokes like Mick Ennis and other senior blokes at training I took a lot out of it [in pre-season].
“I saw how competitive he is, he’s had a great career. I took as much as I could from him and the atmosphere around training with that squad.
“Him retiring leaves a big hole but I’ve just got a lot of things I want to get right to progress. I’m still young and I want to train hard and see where it takes me.”
And, as you might expect of a Sharks junior, Brailey will be at the grand final on Sunday hoping to witness history as Cronulla attempt to win their first premiership.
Meanwhile, Cronulla five-eighth James Maloney was named the Dally M five-eighth of the year after his stellar first season with the club.