LOOKING in-house worked for the Panthers in 2020 and St George Illawarra could do a lot worse than follow the blueprint given the glut of talent coming through the ranks in Wollongong.
Fans got a glimpse of it last week in the Dragons first trial outing, with the likes of South Coast Black Cockatoo Jayden Sullivan and Albion Park-Oak Flats' Josh Coric, as well as Mat and Max Feagai, Junior Amone and Tyrell Sloan all turning heads with their performances.
It was first in the full Red V for the home-grown crop, but would've felt pretty familiar given all were part of the Illawarra Steelers side that claimed the 2019 SG Ball title.
COVID slowed them up in 2020, though Sullivan and Max Feagai got a taste of top grade action.
The development pathway may not fully bear fruit this season, but long-suffering Dragons fans will be hoping they can emulate the likes of Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Stephen Crichton, Liam Martin and Brian To'o in carrying junior success through to NRL level.
It runs contrary to statistics that show even the most successful junior rep teams ultimately produce just one or two NRL players, but Sullivan sees no reason the Steelers class of 2019 can't front a fresh generation for the club.
"I actually remember that talk," Sullivan said.
"Someone from the NRL came down and gave us that statistics talk and it was bit of a shock to us because it's every kid's dream to play NRL.
"For Max and I, and Cody [Rasmey], to achieve that [first grade] goal last season was awesome.
"Seeing how good Tyrell, Junior, the [Feagai] twins are all going is exciting to see because I played all my junior reps with all of them.
"I was lucky enough to captain our SG Ball team and I've got a really close bond with pretty much all the boys in that team.
"You saw how good they went in the trial and I just thought 'wow, we can really make something special here'."
All will be back in action against Parramatta on Thursday night, a squad that also includes returning local junior in Jack Bird and new addition Andrew McCullough.
There's no doubting the fact that Sullivan has been the most exciting prospect for the red v faithful, with many clamouring for the 19-year-old to get a start in round one after he escaped suspension for a dangerous throw with an early guilty plea on Tuesday.
In reality, he's tipped to sit behind veteran pair Ben Hunt and Corey Norman - though an NRL Integrity Unit investigation into latter's involvement in a Crounulla street brawl could see him facing suspension.
It could see Sullivan retain his spot after debuting in round 20 last season, but the Port Kembla product had a somewhat surprising answer when asked if he was gunning for a starting jersey in his side's season-opener.
"I'll happily sit behind anyone just as long as the team's playing well," Sullivan said.
"It's obviously the goal to play six or seven but I'm no rush, I'm 19 and I'm just loving playing footy.
"I had the one [NRL] game last year but pretty much went the whole year without playing.
"I played the Nines at the start of the year and injured myself before the trials so I didn't play any trials and didn't end up playing [NSW] Cup or 20s.
"I was lucky enough to get my debut in round 20 against the Storm and it was just good to get an opportunity to show some of the boys I can play footy, because I still haven't even played reserve grade yet."
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