As a promising rugby player growing up in Trangie, the chance of progression in the bush was pretty limited for Hugh Carpenter.
He was lucky enough to make the move to the city, where he played for Sydney University, and has gone on to have a successful career involved in the game.
His newest role is the head of the Hunter Wildfires academy, a Newcastle-based program designed to help country-based players and offer them another option outside of packing up their lives and moving to Sydney.
"Being a bush kid, my only opportunity was to chase footy in Sydney," Carpenter said.
Carpenter highlighted Harry Johnson-Holmes, who grew up in Cowra before moving to Newcastle and then again to Sydney to chase his dream and ultimately represented his country, as the type of player who can benefit from the academy.
"The Wildfires are giving regional kids a choice now. I have coached Harry. He was fortunate that he got into one of the high performance programs and he was away," he said.
"We are talking to kids who don't have a name for themselves and want to give it a crack. We want to help them develop into the best player they can be. Country kids are resilient and tough. They just need an opportunity and be given the tools to succeed."
The academy is aimed at players aged 17-19 and sessions began this week after there was roughly 100 applicants.
"We won't do anything team-wise until the end of January," Carpenter said.
"It will all be about refining their core skills. We will work out who is who in the zoo and, by the end of January, we will identify a squad of 40."
That squad will form the basis of the Wildfires colts team to compete in the Shute Shield.
"The more talented and possibly older kids will be in the colts academy. There are a lot of under-18 boys who have applied and they will be placed in an emerging group. We don't want to discourage anyone," Carpenter said.
"It will be good for the development of the game in the region. The boys who don't end up playing colts will filter back to their clubs and hopefully make them stronger. The local clubs have been fantastic and helped identity kids who would benefit from the program. "
The academy will be based at Newcastle University, where the Wildfires senior grades also train.
"We are one big family," Carpenter said.
"The programming - the skills, any of the testing and gym work - will mirror what the grade players are undertaking."
The academy and colts programs, as well potentially developing players for higher honours, will also lessen the Wildfires' need to recruit senior players.
That's welcome news for Wildfires first grade coach Scott Coleman, who also has a western connection as he's the brother of Forbes publican and former Forbes Magpies president Matt Coleman.
"We are working closely with our juniors to create that pathway," Coleman said.
"We will start to see the fruits in three years and hopefully after five years we will be nearly self sufficient."
Coleman said Carpenter's position - head of colts and pathways - would expand.
"His focus for now is developing the colts program," Coleman said.
"Eventually we want to steer him into coach mentoring and working with the local clubs as well as our pathways and high performance.
"He will be for us what Garth Brennan is for the Newcastle Knights. His resume and history speak volumes. He has spent the past seven years in the Rugby Australia high performance space. Straight away, he gives our colts program credibility and will lift the bar."
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