Three players from NRL Victoria's inaugural Under 20s Thunderbolts side trained with Storm's first grade squad this pre-season, learning what it takes to progress to elite rugby league.
It was an opportunity for rising stars Matt Stimson, Jordin Leiu and Trent Toelau to develop their games and train with players they idolised growing up.
Stimson – younger brother of Storm second-rower Joe – was captain of the 2018 Thunderbolts side. Originally from Temora, NSW, he is now based in Melbourne. Like his brother, Matt plays second row but also has the ability to play in the halves.
Jordin Leiu completed his second pre-season with the first grade squad and is heading into his third year of U20s football with Victoria. The front-rower has been in the NRL Vic program since he was just 12 and has grown into a reliable and mature player.
Trent Toelau was Thunderbolts Player of the Year in 2018, as well as the recipient of the Darren Bell Medal at the Melbourne Storm Player of the Year Awards. An agile player who can perform in the halves and at hooker, Trent is also heading into his third year playing U20s for Victoria.
Thunderbolts U20s head coach Ben Jack said training with the Storm squad was an invaluable experience for the aspiring young men. "It is fantastic to see these young men get an opportunity to train with first grade," he said.
"The knowledge, experience and maturity they bring back to the Thunderbolts program is invaluable and we really appreciate the Melbourne Storm giving these guys an opportunity.
"For Trent and Jordin it's an amazing achievement as local juniors to be able to train with their heroes – they have watched these guys from a young age.
"Matt is able to gain more leadership experience from people like Cam (Smith), Jesse (Bromwich) and Dale (Finucane) and the opportunity to train with his brother would also be a fantastic moment for the Stimson family."
The sentiment was echoed by NRL Victoria pathways manager Ryan Walker. "Having three guys from our inaugural Thunderbolts squad, including two local Victorian juniors, be given the opportunity to do a pre-season with the NRL Squad is exciting for our pathways program in Victoria," he said.
"Additionally, having another local product Kelma Tuilagi join the Storm's development list in 2019 highlights the pathway for young Victorian players to progress through to the NRL."
The U20s Victoria Thunderbolts will play in the NSWRL Jersey Flegg Cup in 2019.
Stay tuned Storm fans – there will be a number of opportunities to watch the young side play on Gosch's Paddock and at AAMI Park during the year.