Joey Annetts, remember that name.
For six weeks beginning in May, the 15-year-old up and coming footy star and his mum Krystal will pack up their car and make the roughly five hour drive to Narrabeen in northern Sydney only to turn around and drive back again, home to Mudgee, on the same day.
For the past three years Joey has been a part of the Manly Sea Eagles Development Squad. The young Mudgee Dragons Hooker - though he prefers Fullback - was approached by a Manly Development Scout in 2018.
A fateful debut with the Oberon Tigers
On a cool and breezy Friday afternoon down at the Glen Willow footy fields, the Mudgee Guardian caught up with Joey and his mum to talk about their love of footy and what it takes to make it as a country player in the big smoke.
Joey's career began at six years old. He played his first game for the Oberon Tigers and admits he did not like it at first.
"Mum asked me if I wanted to play footy and I said 'yeah, righto'," Joey said.
"I don't remember too much being that little but I wasn't much on it when I was really little but as I kept going that's when I started to find it fun and I kept coming back to it."
But once he got a love for the game, Joey was unstoppable, becoming a passionate player ever since.
It was at the field where we were interviewing Joey that it all started with Manly. Joey was playing a weekend game with the Dragons and Scott Fulton, Junior Development Scout for Manly was in Mudgee at a touch football carnival. Scott saw Joey play and approached his mum.
'I thought someone was playing a joke'
Krystal loves her footy and has no qualms about the lengths they need to go as a family to support Joey. She has been a dyed-in-the-wool Manly supporter since was a young teen and couldn't be more proud of her son.
She said that she wasn't even supposed to be at Glen Willow on the day that Joey was approached by the Development Scout.
"On that day, Scott Fulton came up to me and said 'Is that your son?', and I thought 'Oh god, what's he done?'. I turned around and looked at him and thought 'God, you're familiar, I know you from somewhere," she said.
"I said 'Yeah, that's my son'. And he said, 'I'm Scott Fulton. I'm from the Manly Sea Eagles' and I actually did a double take. I thought someone's playing a joke on me. He said, 'We've been watching him and we'd like to get him down at Manly'.
"The first time he [Joey] pulled that jersey on, I was like, 'Wow, this could be something for him'. But I don't think it would matter what jersey he pulled on. To see him succeeding is worth more than anything."
Scott Fulton told the Mudgee Guardian that Joey is a rare talent, one who is dedicated to the sport.
"He's quite quick. He can develop into a Fullback Winger with the right coaching. He's got ability and his biggest asset is his pace. He's quite quick, very quick actually," Scott said.
"Like most kids at that age, they need to be exposed to that sort of level down there playing against those Sydney clubs. It helps with their development.
"We finished in the top of the Under 17s and finished second by a point in the Under 19s. So we've got the right sort of coaching development in place with the right people to bring the best out of kids and our record shows that."
We leave at midday on Tuesday and get home at one o'clock on Wednesday and we do that for six weeks straight.Krystal Annetts
The hardest of yards for the Annetts
Joey has been plagued by injury and misfortune since he started, but Manly asks him to come back every time.
Joey broke his ankle playing for Manly against the Central Coast Roosters, but he was back on the field as soon as they'd have him. The next year Joey was ready to go when a double whammy of bushfires and COVID hit and the Harold Matthews Cup season was halted. But again, he was invited back.
Joey recently completed five weeks of training at Narrabeen and was set to play on March 24 - and then the skies opened up and wouldn't stop for a week. When you tally it all up, Joey has so far played just three games with Manly in the junior comp. But pending any more natural disasters or injuries, he is ready to get back on the field as soon as he can once the Winter development training begins back in Narrabeen.
"We leave at midday on Tuesday to Narrabeen and get home at one o'clock on Wednesday and we do that for six weeks straight," Krystal said.
"He [Joey] trains for two hours and the rest of the 13 or so hours is spent travelling."
Joey is no stranger to a tough game of football but travelling across the state to play a different style of football was intimidating. "It's quite scary at first. Particularly because I was only the country kid up against all city kids and I don't know any of them," he said.
"It's a lot more fast-paced football in the city as well. But it's just it's all experience - It's like learning anything, really. You just have to keep doing it and you'll get [used to] it eventually.
"It's a lot more structured. Out here they usually put you on the field, you know what you've got to do'. Out there you've got study playbooks, you have to learn all these different techniques."
'I just want to inspire people'
This week Joey will take on the role of ballboy at the Round six Manly v Gold Coast match at Glen Willow.
"The thing that changes a lot as you grow older is when you're young it's just about scoring tries. But as you get older, you realise [it's about] camaraderie, teamwork and just feeling a part of something," Joey said.
"I suppose my biggest thing is I want to inspire people and having that pathway to do it is what keeps me going. I tell myself, 'I've made it this far, you might as well keep going there's no pulling out now'."
"He's very humble and he probably won't say that he's bored. To see the smile on his face when he pulls on a jersey makes it all worth it," Krystal said.