The boys are tethered at the waist as they shuffle side to side, while Greg Lenton stands guard, searching for someone not pulling the requisite weight.
They resemble a chain gang, but this is actually a production line. It is noon, but on the oval at Keebra Park State High School no ordinary lunchtime footy game is taking place.
Keebra's top side has a sudden-death Schoolboys Cup game against Marsden at Pizzey Park on Wednesday so, for this session, the focus is on defence.
Strung out across the 20-metre line and barking encouragement to each other, the defensive line crabs across to prevent Sa Fifita from outflanking the formation.
The point of roping the players together, Lenton explains, is to remind them defence is a collective responsibility.
If the ball carrier has drifted left, you don't slack off on the opposite end of the chain. You toe the line.
It is this attention to detail – plus the 5.30am gym workouts and hours of league tuition built into the curriculum – that enables Keebra Park to protect its reputation as one of Australia's foremost finishing schools for aspiring NRL players.
Since Benji Marshall put the Gold Coast institution on the map back home in New Zealand a decade ago, Lenton sifts through hundreds of applications a year from Kiwi parents desperate for their boy to replicate Marshall's line break from rags to riches.
Lenton is Keebra Park's head coach, manager of the rugby league sports specialisation programme and the bloke who almost forgot the weedy little fellow on a school trip from Whakatane was still on the sidelines at Southport Tigers after he subbed him.
"It wasn't until about the last five minutes that I looked around and looked down and saw this little kid's face looking up at me. I thought, `I'll give this kid another go'," said Lenton, as he recalled the fortuitous recruitment of a star pupil.
He positioned Marshall at halfback, a scrum packed down and in a flash the future Wests Tigers star and Kiwis captain had stepped past Canberra's defenders and touched down under the posts.
"I said, 'Oh, we might take this kid'," said Lenton, who remembered meeting him at the airport the following year.
"He had a little bag with all his possessions; that was it. He had photos of his two young brothers. That's where it all started for Benji."
Keebra Park's affinity with league was initiated by the school's foundation principal, Garfield Prowse. The first name on the honours board is Brett Horsnell, who captained the Australian Schoolboys tour to New Zealand in 1988, before playing 154 first grade games for the Gold Coast Giants, South Queensland Crushers and Parramatta.
The programme floundered in the mid-1990s, when Lenton focused on his own children's upbringing, so Marshall's addition to the board as an, ahem, Australian Schoolboy in 2003 signalled a regeneration.
It also represented a culture change: Maori and Polynesian pupils now dominate the board – and teams from the 13s to the big boys – a reflection of their accelerated physical development compared with their Australian counterparts.
You could justifiably rebrand the school "Keebro Park" these days, for 70 per cent of the 350 boys in the league programme are Maori or Pacific Islanders.
For Sa Fifita, an 18-year-old second rower, the sports-orientated school offered an escape route from Otara and his suburb's pervasive gang culture.
"This school is what made me," he says, eternally grateful that he turned up at Keebra's open trial in Auckland three years ago.
"We were going swimming, but my brother said to take my boots because there was a game on.
"I played, Mr Lenton approached me the next day, handed me the contract and here I am."
Although the family is close knit, Fifita had no hesitation leaving his parents and siblings in south Auckland.
"It's pretty hard where I'm from. Opportunities like this come only once in a lifetime and I want to do the best for myself and my family," he said, before lamenting his lost mates from primary school.
"I thought we'd all play NRL or get somewhere with league and I'm the only one left. The rest have turned the other way. They're all gangsters.
"They don't have the hunger for rugby league any more."
Fifita finishes at Keebra this year and hopes to join the Wests Tigers under-20s squad next season – the club has been affiliated to the school for a decade, backs the programme financially and cherry-picks the most skilful graduates.
He hopes to emulate old boy Ben Murdoch-Masila, who headed to Sydney and made his NRL debut for the Tigers in 2010. Marshall is the poster child for Keebra, but Lenton has a number of acquisitions he looks back on with satisfaction.
He remembers watching video of Murdoch-Masila supplied by his scouting network in Auckland.
"There were some big boys out there and I thought, `There's nothing too out of the box here'. Next thing you'd swear there was a total eclipse or something when they brought him on. He stood around and did very little, but he took the ball at one stage and what I noticed most about was his incredible explosiveness for such a big man."
However, when the hulking second rower barely made it half-way round the oval in his first training run, Lenton's coaching colleagues questioned his judgment.
The teenager rocked up with long hair and a short temper, but after three months under strength and conditioning coach Glen Campbell's regimen, the changes were more than cosmetic.
"We sent him home one Easter. We'd taken 15kg off him and he had his hair cut," Lenton said.
"He got to the airport in Auckland and when his parents saw him, his father started crying.
"It was the first time he'd seen his boy smile since he was little. His whole attitude to life had changed."
Murdoch-Masila's Dad feared the worst when Ben said he wanted to see his old mates in Otahuhu and was amazed when he beat the midnight curfew by 90 minutes.
"He told his father, `I suddenly realised that's not my life any more'," relayed Lenton, with the satisfaction of a parent.
But Murdoch-Masila had one Achilles' heel, however – a constant battle with the bulge. So he turned up at his old school during this year's pre-season to shed some kilograms and get his ear chewed off.
"When he was here, we'd watch him like a hawk – wouldn't let him breathe basically and controlled everything he did.
"When they get down to their clubs and are supposedly adults, they're allowed to run their own lives. I argue against that because they're still kids," Lenton said.
"They need the discipline, the line in the sand and that's why he turned up here last year for a couple of weeks and trained with us."
Discipline is a cornerstone of the programme. Play truant and you don't play footy. Academically, a C is mandatory or they are suspended until their grades improve.
"It's explained to them early on that no matter how successful they might be in football, if they don't have an academic background behind them, they're in a lot of trouble," he said.
"If things go well, they've got 10 years as a professional footballer if they're lucky, and very few have that. We stress that to them all the time. All the boys are either on the academic programme aiming to go to university or in a traineeship."
Under Lenton's tutelage, Keebra Park's trophy cabinet has never been empty, yet it's just as fulfilling when a Kiwi player who doesn't make first grade succeeds in another way of life.
"That's what it's all about for me. The trophies are minor compared with seeing these kids turn their lives around.
"This is their way out. They come from very poor families.
"With a lot of the Australian kids it's a pretty easy life.
"They think, `Do we really have to go out and flog ourselves?' I don't know if the hunger's the same.
"There's plenty of them up there," Lenton says, motioning towards a wall covered in laminated newspaper clippings of Kiwis who have beaten the odds.
Peter-Rae Wharerau, from Rotorua, is not among the all-star cast, yet he is still a winner in Lenton's eyes.
Wharerau excelled in Keebra's top team and was signed by the Gold Coast Titans. He went to pre-season training, had a change of heart and is nearing the end of an electrician's apprenticeship.
"He wears a tattoo on his chest, the Keebra Park badge, the colours and everything, because this was his only family," Lenton said.
"He had such a tough life. There's a great example of a kid who came into the programme and it wasn't about the football really.
"The football was a vehicle he used to get his life on track."
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