Keebra Park 2024-26 Rabbitohs Affiliation

11th October 2023

The South Sydney Rabbitohs are delighted to announce the commencement of a three-year exclusive affiliation agreement with renowned Rugby League school, Keebra Park State High School, which will see the expansion of the Rabbitohs' elite male and female pathways into south-east Queensland.

Keebra Park State High School is regarded as one of the premier sporting schools in Queensland, with a particular focus on Rugby League through the school's male and female academies. This partnership will enable the Rabbitohs to expand its reach into Queensland for elite young players and coaches to add to the talent from the South Sydney district and other recruited players from New South Wales and beyond. Keebra Park State High School students will have access to elite development opportunities via Rabbitohs coaching staff, a pathway to the Rabbitohs South-East Queensland Elite Player Development Program, potential playing contracts with the Rabbitohs, and an opportunity to work in community and to strive for excellence under the Rabbitohs umbrella. Keebra Park State High School coaching staff will also have professional development opportunities with Rabbitohs coaches. This is all with a view to developing the next generation of players and coaches for the Rabbitohs NRL and, eventually, NRLW teams. Keebra Park State High School has produced some of the best Rugby League talent of the past two decades including current Rabbitohs player Jai Arrow, former Rabbitohs players Ben Te'o, Benji Marshall, Jesse Arthars, Tautau Moga and Jaxson Paulo, as well as representative players such as Payne Haas, David Fifita, Reece Walsh, Zahara Temara, Moeaki Fotuaika and AJ Brimson.

Rabbitohs Chief Operating Officer, Brock Schaefer, says this exclusive affiliation agreement with Keebra Park State High School will help develop elite talent for South Sydney at the top levels of the game. "This is a great opportunity for the Club to expand its pathways into Queensland with the best Rugby League school academy in Queensland," Mr Schaefer said. We identified in our strategic plan and our recent football department review that ongoing and increased investment in our elite pathway programs is crucial to our success at the NRL and senior levels within our Club. This exclusive affiliation agreement will enhance the work we’re already doing in this space and will provide benefits at the elite levels in the not-too-distant future. We’re very excited about this partnership with Keebra Park State High School, which will be led from our end by Tyrone McCarthy who has extensive experience in building academies as well as Queensland Rugby League, and we can't wait to get started as we build into season 2024 and beyond."

Peter Norman, Keebra Park's Head of Rugby League Academy is also looking forward to the partnership with the Rabbitohs. "We are extremely excited to have an exclusive partnership agreement with South Sydney. Both organisations share similar values based on caring for our stakeholders and community, whilst the exclusive nature of our agreement will ensure we are able to continue to recruit, retain and develop the best talent well into the future," Mr Norman said. Not only will our students be able to have a direct pathway to a professional sporting career with the most successful NRL club in Rugby League history, they will also have access to the Rabbitohs industry leading health and wellbeing programs to further enhance their holistic development as a well-rounded person."

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Rabbitohs Award First Keebra Park Scholarships

29th November 2023

The South Sydney Rabbitohs have awarded their first two scholarships as part of the affiliation with Keebra Park State High School, with Tomasi Vaitai and Kobe Vakalahi both receiving the scholarships this month.

Vaitai is 15 years of age, studying in year ten at Keebra Park SHS, and was awarded the first scholarship under the new affiliation agreement. Tomasi is of Samoan and Tongan heritage and was named the Queensland Whites under 15s Australian Schoolboys Championships player of the carnival earlier this year in Port Macquarie. He was also awarded the Hampo’s Youth Foundation Grant in 2023, an award named in honour of former Keebra Park SHS student and coach, Liam Hampson. Hampson attended the school from 2011 to 2016 before returning to the school in 2021 as a specialist coach in the Rugby League program. Hampson’s positive energy, great attitude and strong resilience saw him excel as a footballer and a person, right up until his untimely passing in 2022 due to an accident whilst travelling overseas. His lasting legacy lives on through the Hampo’s Youth Foundation, and this year’s recipient, Tomasi Vaitai. Vaitai will receive ongoing support and mentorship to help him realise his dreams of playing professional Rugby League, with the school identifying his exuberant spirit which was also a hallmark of Hampson, hence Tomasi’s receipt of this award.

Rabbitohs pathways recruitment manager, Brent Hill, said: "I met with Tomasi and his mum Lilli in Queensland and I couldn’t have been more impressed with the young man and how respectful and humble they both were to have this opportunity with the Rabbitohs and Keebra Park. Tomasi travels 90km by public transport from Ipswich to Keebra Park for school each day, a four-hour round trip, which shows his dedication to his education and his football at the school. I’m really looking forward to watching his development in our south-east Queensland elite development pathway."

The second player to receive a scholarship into the south-east Queensland elite development pathway from Keebra Park SHS, Kobe Vakalahi, is 17 years of age and will start his year 12 studies at Keebra Park SHS in 2024. He is of Tongan and Samoan heritage as well, stands 197cm tall and weighs 114kg, and can play either as a middle or edge forward. Kobe has only played two seasons of Rugby League, having played basketball for five years in Werribee, Victoria. Kobe is one of five boys in the Vakalahi family. Kobe was identified by the NFL, along with his two older brothers, as potential targets for the NFL college system, however Kobe has indicated he wants to give himself every opportunity to excel in Rugby League before considering a potential career in the NFL.

Rabbitohs pathways recruitment manager, Brent Hill, said: "Kobe is a very raw talent and still has much to learn in the game, however he will get the chance to do that within our system and the great people in charge of the Rugby League Academy at Keebra Park. He will get great coaching in our south-east Queensland elite development pathway and he could be one that jumps out of the ground in the next 12 months. His father, Frank, is very proud of his sons and will support them in any decision they make around their sport. He has been supportive of the older boys’ move into the NFL system and he is equally supportive of Kobe’s dreams to make it in Rugby League. We’re delighted to be able to give him the opportunity to develop in our system and we’ll be doing our best to develop two more Rabbitohs in both Kobe and Tomasi."

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