By Joel Gould and Seagulls Media
Keenan Palasia was without an NRL contract a month ago but today the young forward will make his Broncos debut against the Sharks after four years of development in the Seagulls and Broncos systems.
Palasia’s debut marks the third player this year to have debuted in the NRL after playing for the Seagulls, joining Tom Dearden and Patrick Carrigan. Payne Haas also debuted for the Broncos last year after cutting his teeth in the Intrust Super Cup in the Red and Green.
The strong pathway at BMD Kougari Oval has no better evidence than the latest debutant, with Palasia playing in every grade – from Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup, to Hastings Deering Colts, to BRL A Grade and then Intrust Super cup over the past four years before reaching the summit of the NRL.
There were emotional scenes when the 22-year-old was handed his debut jersey, where he will come off the bench in place of Shaun Fensom and joins wingers Herbie Farnworth, Xavier Coates and former Rabbitoh forward Rhys Kennedy as one of four club debutants on Sunday.
Palasia, who grew up idolising dual international Sonny Bill Williams, has been on fire with the Wynnum-Manly Seagulls in the Intrust Super Cup after a train and trial deal with the Broncos earlier in the season failed to materialise in a new deal.
He had started a job in a bank six weeks ago while playing on a semi-professional basis with Wynnum but such was his form that the Broncos offered the hard running back-rower a new deal.
From the age of 13 to 17 Palasia was in the Gold Coast Titans system, but then joined the Broncos academy where he also played under 20s before having one year at Red Hill full-time.
Broncos veteran Alex Glenn has trained with Palasia and said he had thoroughly deserved his new contract and NRL debut.
“He started playing at Wynnum this year and now he gets his debut for the club which is awesome for him,” Glenn said.
“He didn’t have a contract at the start of the year when he was out at Wynnum but it is a credit to him that he kept working hard. He’s been playing great footy out at Wynnum. It has been a massive month for him and I am just excited this game to see him go out and perform for us.
“I have worked with him for a long time here through pre-seasons and he has always turned up and put his best foot forward at training.”
New five-eighth Jake Turpin said Palasia was “a real good story” after fighting back from injury woes.
“Keenan is a big kid and mobile. I’m going to be comfortable having him next to me,” Turpin said.
“He’s just had a lot of dramas with one of his knees. He was a star coming through the juniors but had knee surgeries. He’s gone back to the Q Cup this year and gone really well and been one of the form players of the comp.”
Palasia has Maori and Samoan heritage, so it is no surprise his on-field idol is Williams.
“I don’t play anything like him, but my favourite player growing up was Sonny Bill Williams … I used to watch his games and clips on YouTube – the whole lot,” Palasia told the QRL website earlier this year.
“Sonny changed how second-rowers play with his added footwork, ball playing and offloading in his game.
“He can do everything and is just the complete footy player. He has proved what an athlete he is in two codes, but more importantly I love the way he carries himself off the field as well.”
Palasia has been through the mill with injuries but said he had great support around him to get him through it.
“I’ve had a couple of knee surgeries – one ACL and one medial, and ankle and hand surgery,” he said.
“I’m only 22 but having those injuries early has helped me cope mentally and remind me that I have people behind me to help me through it all, particularly my mum, dad and brother.”
Palasia and the new-look Brisbane side have a massive challenge ahead of them on Sunday but Glenn has been a part of “Baby Broncos” sides in the past that have been willing to go the extra mile when Origin players were out.
“When you get a young squad that comes in with players making their debut they always turn up and do their job,” he said.
“I know these boys are going to go out there and bring a lot of energy and want to get their hands on the ball. Their work rate will be really high, I am predicting. The dream of putting on a first grade jersey is becoming a reality and you don’t want to let it go.”