If any young rugby league playmaker in New Zealand could choose who to be coached by, Stacey Jones would surely be right up there.
And that's exactly who Ngaruawahia's Liam Prendergast has as his mentor.
The 17-year-old five-eighth is working under the former Kiwis and Warriors star halfback as part of the Warriors development squad, aiming to force his way into the club's under-20 side next season.
Prendergast is in year 13 at St John's College and has been playing rugby league since he was 13, when he joined the Turangawaewae club.
Now he's in his third year with the Ngaruawahia Panthers and is about to enter his first season of premier club footy, having bounced back from a pre-season concussion suffered in a nasty fall to the ground when taking the park for the WaiCoa Bays Stallions against Otahuhu.
Having played for the WaiCoa Bays colts side in the national under-17 competition the past two years, Prendergast's efforts saw him selected in a New Zealand Rugby League selection team at the end of last season.
Those players are now part of an under-18s Kiwis training squad ahead of a two-match series against the Australian Schoolboys in New Zealand later this season.
And it was a case of being in the right place at the right time for Prendergast to get a chance at the Warriors.
"Last year, when I was with WaiCoa Bays, our final game against Counties, Dean Bell [Warriors general manager of football operations] came and watched," Prendergast said.
"He wasn't actually watching me at first, but then he's seen me and was quite impressed.
"So me and a couple of others had a few meetings with him. And yeah, it just went from there.
"We went up just for a meeting and a tour round. He took us out for lunch and stuff, and he basically offered us a contract then," Prendergast said.
He has a two-year deal; this year he's with the development team, and next year he's hoping to be in the under-20s and play in the Holden Cup.
"Yeah, basically, that's what everyone's trying to do," he said.
He goes to Auckland for training after school on Mondays and Wednesdays with the 20-odd others in the squad and works under the guidance of Jones, who Prendergast looked up to as a kid, having always been a Warriors supporter.
Prendergast's vision and kicking game are what sets him apart from the others, according to Moehewa Armstrong, who coached him in the WaiCoa Bays Colts side.
"‘He's not a big fella but he's willing to take the line on, so he's got a fair bit of courage too," Armstrong said, adding that that courage was also used by Prendergast on defence, where he's able to mix it despite not being big.
Prendergast has some family history in the sport - his brothers used to play and one of them made the Junior Kiwis.
Now he's hoping to go even further and one day crack the NRL. Prendergast has given up his first XV rugby commitments to concentrate all his energy on the 13-man code and is contemplating a move to Auckland once he finishes school to be closer to Warriors trainings.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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