In 2003, a teenager by the name of Benji Marshall made his NRL debut for the Wests Tigers. It was a winning formula, in 2005 the kid from Whakatāne led them to the Holy Grail – a win in the NRL Grand Final. Now, in 2019, the club have recruited another young Bay of Plenty star, another who plays in the halves and has a background in touch rugby. Sports reporter David Beck caught up with Rotorua Boys' High School student Ceiza James to find out what went into the decision to join the Tigers and what it means to him.
Signing a two-year under-20 contract with NRL club the Wests Tigers is an impressive achievement but Ceiza James knows it is just the first step on his journey.
The Rotorua Boys' High School first XV star is blessed with supreme speed, elusiveness and game awareness but it will all be put to the test when he joins the Tigers on November 11 and starts pre-season training.
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James said he was excited about the opportunity and eager to impress.
"It will be a new experience, I've been aiming for this for ages, since I was about 10. I was getting little offers from other clubs earlier but no one actually put it on paper and it sort of fell off this year.
There were heaps of offers from rugby, especially after this season, and we were going to sign with rugby but when I told my agent he said Canberra and the Tigers were interested. Canberra didn't really show as much interest and my family are in Sydney so I went with Tigers."
While he played rugby union all year, he has always enjoyed league, having played for Pikiao Rugby League Club in the past.
"There's more time with the ball. I'll be playing halfback - I have to focus on reading the defence and putting my team in front."
While it is not fair to compare such a raw talent to a bona fide star like Benji Marshall, the pair undoubtedly share many similarities. Marshall has resigned with the club for 2020 meaning James will have the opportunity to be mentored by one of the game's best.
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"That's going to be the plan, to be mentored by him. I just want to improve as a player and hopefully sign for the first grade team at the end of those two years."
He said Rotorua Boys' High School - the teachers and his coaches - had played a key role in getting him this far. He knew there would be challenges in Sydney but he would be living with family at first which he said would make the transition easier.
"Just forming combinations and trying to get a good relationship with the coaches. I need to prepare well, mentally and physically, I don't want to go over there under-done. Preseason will be hard but I'm looking forward to it. It's exciting."
Rotorua Boys' High School co-director of rugby Ngarimu Simpkins said making it in the NRL would be tough but he was confident James had the skills required.
"He's got nice speed, great awareness on the field - tactically he's really good, his catch and pass is really good, his attacking ability is pretty classy. There are such good players over there who grew up in really strong systems. He's got a great chance because he's going into a strong coaching system with the Tigers, they have a great development system, but it is really hard over there."
He said James would need to learn good habits early and be willing to make sacrifices.
"Those guys look at athletes who can do the grind day in and day out. They'll have a hard week followed up by another hard week so it's important to make sure the athlete can keep hitting the same mark that he did when he was fresh.
"Ceiza definitely has the mental strength for it, he's got plenty of ticker and it's just going to be about how fast he can adapt."
James is the fifth Rotorua Boys' High School student to sign an NRL contract in the last three years which Simpkins said showed the school's rugby academy was moving in the right direction.
"Our plan in the school, in terms of our vision, is to be the best academy in New Zealand. The fact that we are producing athletes who sign professional contracts is pleasing for us. We'd probably like a few more of them to be signing rugby contracts but at the end of the day we're doing something right and our boys are being exposed to professional sports."