After taking up rugby league seriously only this year, Thomas McKenzie has experienced a quick rise through the ranks.
McKenzie (17), of Edendale, was named in the South Island Under-17 Scorpions squad earlier this month.
The talented loose forward played for the Southland Under-17 Rams at a tournament in Greymouth, where he impressed and went on to trial for the Scorpions in Christchurch.
McKenzie was one of two players chosen from Southland for the team and was relishing the experience to expand his skills.
“It’s been really good. It’s a different type of training for three hours straight every day,” he said.
“It’s a lot of conditioning and fitness work which has been a huge jump. They get us fatigued, and working on decision-making under pressure has been really great.”
A training camp will be based in Christchurch every weekend for the next six weeks which will require a lot of commitment from the young prospect.
McKenzie said balancing school work and the cost of travelling weighed on his mind but the drive to improve his game at the top level spurred him on.
“I had to have a really good think about it all. I go up on a Friday night and come back Monday morning before school. It’s been a really big commitment but something I really look forward to every weekend,” he said.
“I don’t see it as much of a commitment when it’s something I really enjoy.”
Originally a rugby union player, McKenzie started joining in with his brother Josh at his rugby league training when he was 16.
“I just used to go down to Invercargill and join in with this training sometimes but I really got into it this year playing proper club [league] down there.”
Josh McKenzie had gone on to represent the Otago Whalers in the South Island Premiership this season.
Thomas played first five-eighth in union, a position vastly different from loose forward in league, he said.
“I really thrive off the contact a lot, which league gives me the opportunity to get stuck into .. whereas union I’m more of a play-maker on the field.”
He had represented Southland in union but had chosen to trial for the Scorpions in preference to the Southland under-18 union team this year.
“The time will probably come where I have to choose between the two seriously, but at the moment I’m really enjoying playing both and I’m able to do so.’
The Scorpions will play in the New Zealand under-17 league tournament against about four North Island teams in October.
The squad will be reduced from 26 players to 21 before the the tournament.