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Tanner Stowers-Smith, a promising back rower with the Halswell Hornets, has secured an initial two-year deal with the Sydney NRL club, though Covid-19 means the 16-year-old is unsure when he will be able to check out the headquarters at Belmore.
Stowers-Smith actually impressed during a pre-season trial at Parramatta in January, but one of the Eels rivals pounced due to a connection between Halswell stalwart Jeff Whittaker and the Bulldogs pathways and development officer Craig Wilson.
Whittaker and Wilson forged a bond when the latter held a similar role at Cronulla – the Sharks previously had a decade-long association with Halswell to identify talented juniors in Christchurch.
Brisbane Broncos wing Jamayne Isaako, a cousin of Stowers-Smith, followed a similar pathway as did retired former Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney Roosters and West Tigers hooker Matt McIlwrick.
A year 12 student at St Bede’s College, Stowers-Smith was humbled by the opportunity.
“I thought Covid had messed it up so it’s great,” he said, adding he hoped to get across to Sydney in January for a training camp.
Stowers-Smith said he was well aware of the standards set by Pat Smith, who captained the Kiwis in each of his 38 appearances between 1947-49.
“Dad and grandad always talk about him and I’ve seen quite a few articles about him,” he said.
Stowers-Smith couldn’t nominate a player he modelled himself on, though he was a long-term Canberra Raiders fan - he was drawn to the lime green strip - until a merchandise package arrived from the Bulldogs.
Whittaker was not surprised Stowers-Smith caught the eye, and predicted a bright future for the teenager.
“He’s a great trainer and he’s a scholar at school. He’s ticking all the boxes that a NRL club wants to see in a young player coming through,” he said.
“There’s some pretty exciting things there for him really. He’ll finish school and then they’ll help him either through education or a job as well as accommodation (in Sydney).”