The future of Queensland Rugby appears bright after the Queensland Reds awarded seven young players with elite Developing Squad contracts.
This year’s Queensland Premier Rugby U20s Player of the Year Floyd Aubrey will be joined by schoolboy sensations Taj Annan and Carsen Patu, as well as Bond University Premier Grade pairing George Blake and Wilson Blyth plus Wests Bulldogs backrow duo Keynan Tauakipulu and Lopeti Faifua at Ballymore.
Following the completion of the Queensland Premier Rugby Finals Series and as part of the QRU’s strategy to identify and develop emerging Rugby talent in Queensland, the seven Reds Academy members will join the Queensland Reds training program on a part-time basis.
Reds General Manager – Professional Rugby Sam Cordingley said: "This is an extremely talented group of young men who have worked hard for their opportunity.
“They all have very diverse backgrounds in terms of how they entered our pathway which is really a credit to the entire Academy program for the work they continue to do in identifying talent for the Queensland Reds.
“The Reds Academy is recognised one of the best in the country but we have higher aspirations. We pride ourselves on delivering a clear plan for our developing players.
“There’s no doubt we’ll see some of these players in a Reds jersey in the coming years but it is in their best interests not to be rushed into a fulltime environment.”
Reds Head of Talent Management Paul Carozza said: “It’s great to reward another set of promising young Queensland products.
“All seven have impressed as they’ve progressed through the Queensland Rugby pathway, and we’re excited to see them take their opportunity to train with the Super Rugby squad.
“We’ve seen the likes of Josh Flook, Mac Grealy, Kalani Thomas and Zane Nonggorr make the jump to professional Rugby with the Reds over the last two years and hopefully some of these players can do the same in the future.”
Born in Newcastle, Taj Annan moved to Queensland when he was 14 to accept a scholarship with Brisbane Boys College (BBC) and has since made the most of the opportunity.
The powerfully built utility back guided BBC’s 1st XV Rugby side to their first GPS Premiership since 1954 last year. He captained the 1st XI cricket team to a premiership in 2020 as well to become the first student in the school’s history to win GPS cricket and Rugby titles in the same year.
His leadership also stretches to Rugby as co-captain of this year’s Queensland U18s squad, plus vice-captain of the Queensland U16s side in 2019.
George Blake and Wilson Blyth both excelled at schoolboy level and were a part of the Southport School’s (TSS) 1st XV Premiership side in 2019, with Blyth as vice-captain behind skipper and Queensland Reds prop Zane Nonggorr.
The Gold Coast pair haven’t ventured far from school and are now packing down together at ‘The Canal’ for Bond University in the Allsports Physiotherapy Hospital Challenge Cup.
Blyth will form a sibling secondrow combo with older brother Angus at Ballymore, while Blake is set to again link-up with his school and club frontrow partner Nonggorr.
Alongside close mates in Blake, Blyth and Nonggorr, Carsen Patu was also a part of TSS’s undefeated 1st XV 2019 premiership season.
Recognised as the school’s official most improved player last year, the barnstorming loosehead prop has transformed himself physically as he continues to dominate the GPS competition during his final year of high school in 2021.
In addition to his school Rugby, Patu has also impressed for the Burleigh Bears in the Queensland Rugby League U18s competition – the Mal Meninga Cup – but has chosen to stick with Rugby and develop his game within the Reds program despite being pursued by the rival football code.
Also knocking back rugby league offers after fielding plenty of interest from the NRL is elusive fullback Floyd Aubrey.
The teenager moved from his hometown of Murgon, north-west of Brisbane, to board at Marist College Ashgrove where he soon lit up the 1st XV competition as one of the hottest talents of the AIC schoolboy rugby system.
Named the Marist Sportsman of the Year in 2020, Aubrey has taken his skills to club Rugby, leading GPS to the Colts 1 Premiership in his first season at the club.
Already a formidable backrow pairing for the Bulldogs at Sylvan Road, Tauakipulu and Faifua’s combination dates back to their teenage years where they not only played Rugby together but also lived together in New Zealand.
The pair played alongside each other for Auckland East U16s (which Tauakipulu captained), Auckland Blues U17s and then at high school together where they represented the 1st XV and 2nd XV teams for renowned Rugby nursery Saint Kentigern College.
Following standout schoolboy performances, all seven pathway products have gone on to earn selection for their state and/or country at U18s or U20s level.
Annan, Aubrey and Patu were all named in this year’s Queensland U18s squad before their scheduled interstate matches against New South Wales were cancelled in June due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak.
With multiple states under lockdown and uncertainty around border controls, COVID also saw the postponement of the 2021 Oceania Rugby U20s Championship where Blake, Blyth, Faifua and Tauakipulu were all named in the Junior Wallabies squad alongside capped Queensland Reds players Mac Grealy, Kalani Thomas, Josh Flook and Zane Nonggorr.
Captained by Flook with fellow Reds Thomas and Nonggorr in the team, Tauakipulu and Blake were also a part of the successful Australian Schools & U18s side who defeated their Kiwi counterparts for the first time in seven years on their Tour of New Zealand in 2019.