Aquinas Colts juniors Jayden Brailey, Kyle Flanagan, Blayke Brailey and Bronson Xerri together again at Cronulla Sharks

Colts to Sharks: (From left) Kyle Flanagan, Bronson Xerri, Jayden Brailey and Blayke Brailey. Picture: Chris Lane
Colts to Sharks: (From left) Kyle Flanagan, Bronson Xerri, Jayden Brailey and Blayke Brailey. Picture: Chris Lane

When Glenn Brailey was coaching at the Aquinas Colts, his main goal for the kids in his teams had nothing to do with winning games.

It had nothing to do with who scored the most tries or made the most tackles.

As good as they were as players, he simply wanted to help them become even better people than they were rugby league players.

That approach has paid dividends for the Cronulla Sharks.

It is unusual for elite sporting clubs to be able to run out four local juniors these days. But it is almost unheard of for four players from the same junior club to progress into the same top level team.

Aquinas Colts juniors Jayden Brailey, Kyle Flanagan, Blayke Brailey and Bronson Xerri all played together for the Sharks against Parramatta earlier this month. They could potentially all play together again at PointsBet Stadium in Cronulla's important clash with Penrith on Thursday night.

While they are different ages, they have essentially walked the same path from Aquinas Colts junior to Cronulla Sharks first grader.

Star: Bronson Xerri in action against the Roosters on Saturday night. Picture: John Veage

Star: Bronson Xerri in action against the Roosters on Saturday night. Picture: John Veage

They attended Aquinas Catholic College Menai and came up through the age groups at Aquinas Colts before graduating to junior representative teams at the Sharks.

Jayden Brailey was the trailblazer. The 23-year-old made his first grade debut at the start of 2017 under premiership-winning coach Shane Flanagan.

Kyle Flanagan came next, making his debut in round 24 last season under his father.

Blayke Brailey and Xerri followed this season, with new Sharks coach John Morris giving 20-year-old Brailey and 18-year-old Xerri their chance to break through with the Sharks in rounds one and four respectively.

And Glenn Brailey, father of Jayden and Blayke, has had a front row seat for the journey.

Brailey coached Blayke and Kyle's junior team from under-8s to under-17s as they won 10 consecutive premierships. Xerri also stepped up age groups to play in that side for a handful of seasons, while he also had plenty to do with Jayden's development.

Kyle Flanagan making his NRL debut in the win over Newcastle last season. Picture: John Veage

Kyle Flanagan making his NRL debut in the win over Newcastle last season. Picture: John Veage

"I reckon it comes down to a lot of contributing factors," Brailey told the Leader.

"There's a very good system at the Sharks. And as individuals they are very focused. And that good attitude comes from a good foundation. All the boys have a very strong family base with good values which is important.

"You can be as good an individual player as you want but not a good person without those strong values. I don't care about ability, you won't get there if you don't have both. I know all the families well and they all hold that in such a high regard and give such good support to the boys.

"And that's through the good times and hard times. We've always tried to pick them up and point them in the right direction. In our teams we held those values and built a good culture. We always spoke about them being good players but also good people, all four of them."

But it was never smooth sailing. There were setbacks and road blocks along the way. The boys worked hard and earned the rewards along the way.

They are also close away from football. And have built a bond that will hopefully keep them together in the black, white and blue for many years to come.

Jayden Brailey during pre-season training. Picture: John Veage

Jayden Brailey during pre-season training. Picture: John Veage

"In their age groups they were always a little bit above their opposition. But you'd never get ahead of yourself and say they'd play in the NRL. It's a hard one, there's a lot of factors along the way. But I never questioned that they could get there because they had the right attitude," Brailey said.

"I'm massively proud of all of them. To have one son play in the NRL is unbelievable, two is mind blowing. They've worked really hard for it. Kyle I've known for such a long time, since he was in under-8s. It was such a privilege to be invited into his [first grade] jersey presentation before his debut. And Bronson doesn't surprise me at all. I had his older brother in our team for 10 years and he was an outstanding footballer as well, but he decided on a different pay. Seeing Bronson come through and be part of his development, I'm massively proud of the four boys."

Brailey now coaches Cronulla's women's team and oversees the club's academy talent along with his role of scouting local players.

And while the quartet have plenty of similarities, Brailey says there is also much that sets them apart as individuals.

"Jayden never played in the best team. It used to be when they were coming through at the Sharks they used to do scholarships for players from each age group. He was never one of those scholarship players," he said.

"None of those players have gone on and come through into grade. Jayden always struggled being picked in rep squads. But his resilience and mental toughness and attitude was very unusual for someone his age. He had setbacks but just kept working harder and harder.

Blayke Brailey in action against the Titans in round two this season. Picture: John Veage

Blayke Brailey in action against the Titans in round two this season. Picture: John Veage

"Kyle and Blayke had a lot of good individual ability but that doesn't win you comps. It was their approach to training, their want to learn and their attention to detail and having the right attitude was above their years.

"Blayke by nature is a very creative person, Jayden is very structured, all about the process. Blayke is a good drawer and painter, a bit more creative. Coming through he was a bit on the smaller side but he had unreal skill. He was very quiet and unassuming but he was a tough little bugger too.

"Jayden is very process driven. Preparation is very professional, methodical. Blayke is Mr Casual. You watch him warm up and he's so laid back. But everyone is different and it's about what best suits the individual.

"Kyle has always been a very smart footballer. He's always had this great awareness of his surroundings and of what the opposition's strengths were. It's why he made a very, very good No.7. Such an intelligent player, always a really good work ethic. He captained that team for all those years and is such a good leader. He knows how to get the best out of others.

"He's got that natural ability but his biggest strength for me is his understanding of the game and his knowledge and how he uses it.

"Bronson was always a biggish kid but was always a standout as a player in his age group as well. A great player, strong kid, it doesn't surprise me where he is now at all. He was always above the other kids his age hence the reason he came up to our team.

"And even though he was a bit younger he was still better than the older kids, faster, stronger than them. He'd challenge them, not the other way around."

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