Maraki Aumua, 16, leaves on Monday for Townsville where he will join the North Queensland Cowboys and head straight into pre-season training with the NRL squad.
The talented goal-kicking five-eighth was spotted at a touch tournament and signed to a six-year deal last year.
He has just finished year 11 at Palmerston North Boys’ High School, where he was in the first XV rugby team, but he will go to Kirwin State High School, a top Australian school for league, to finish his schooling.
He will also link up with the Townsville Blackhawks, a feeder team for the Cowboys, and train with the Cowboys’ top squad. He will live with a home stay family.
“I’m extremely excited, but nervous at the same time. It will be a new environment and with new mates.
“I’m just looking forward to it.”
He said wanted to eventually crack the top-30 squad, but for now his goal was to be selected for a Queensland team.
Four clubs were interested in Aumua, but the chance to be closer to his favourite player, former Cowboys and Australia star Johnathan Thurston, was one of the reasons he chose the Cowboys.
The family were invited to tour the Cowboys’ facilities last year and met staff and players. It impressed Pele and mother Tania Jahnke.
Pele said the conversation they had with the Cowboys about how the club was invested in player welfare was what swayed them.
“They looked at the pathway for young athletes and the club invested in Maraki long term.”
Five other young New Zealand players will be at the Cowboys, which was comforting for Aumua knowing other people would be in the same boat as him.
He will be mentored and coached, which was assuring for the family having him away from home.
Aumua is a top academic, but he has been a gun sportsman in every code he has turned his hand to, playing touch, cricket, basketball, rugby, rugby league and football.
He has captained the New Zealand under-16 touch team and is in the New Zealand under-18 team, which is supposed to go to the World Cup in the UK this year, but the tournament is on hold due to Covid-19.
He has represented Counties Manukau in touch when Manawatū didn’t have a team and was in the New Zealand Barbarians team in the super league competition last year.