Super Cup debut for our Kai
FORMER Whitsunday Brahmans A-Grade player and Proserpine State High School graduate Kai O'Donnell hasn't put a foot wrong since leaving the Whitsundays and heading to the Gold Coast with his family a year and a half ago.
Taking to the green in a Burleigh Bears Intrust Super Cup jersey for the first time, the 19-year-old considers it just one more rung on the ladder towards his ultimate goal of an NRL contract.
In a little over 18-months, the forward made his way from Burleigh's Mal Meninga Cup team, to the Hasting Deerings Colts squad, to senior A-Grade and finally the Essential Coffee Burleigh Bears Intrust Super Cup side.
Scoring a development contract with the Gold Coast Titans, a typical week for the landscaper sees him sweat with the Titans on Monday backed up by the hard yards with the Bears on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays before game time across the weekend.
"It feels like home. I love it,” O'Donnell said.
"It's an awesome group of people. Everybody is very welcoming and I'm learning heaps.”
He got his first taste of Intrust Super Cup in Round 16 with a 34-16 win over local rivals Tweed Heads.
Since then, he has come off the bench against Norths Devils and the Redcliffe Dolphins and he has again been included in the top side for this weekend's Country Round clash with the Capras in Maryborough.
He said Intrust Super Cup was faster and the margin for error was smaller than any other level of football he had played, but the experience and the players around him were helping his confidence build each week.
"It was an unreal experience,” he said of his debut. "I was very grateful to get it. It meant heaps and it was nice for the hard work to pay off.
"I feel a lot more confident at the moment than I did on my debut and I feel like I've already learned a lot from playing with the group.”
Coming off the bench, he said he was looking to bringing energy and some physicality when he came onto the field.
"Eventually I would like to push forward for an NRL contract,” he said, "but for this year I'm just looking to work hard and try to keep my Intrust Super Cup spot.”
Bears coach Jimmy Lenihan has named an unchanged 17 and O'Donnell said it was up to each individual to produce a consistent performance for 80-minutes if they were going to get back in the winner's circle.
"Each of us just need to focus on doing our individual jobs correctly,” he said.
"We've got to make sure we hold the ball and stick to it for the whole 80 and don't switch off at all.”
Coach Lenihan said O'Donnell impressed the club last year in the under 18s and continued to perform well in training, progressing through the ranks to the Super Cup team.
"We are very happy with him, he has done a really good job,” he said.
"He is young and keen to make an impression and he's doing everything right so far.
"He is certainly someone we would be looking to keep in our club next year.”
O'Donnell moved to Airlie Beach when he was 10 years old and started his career with the Under-11 Brahmans team, debuting for the A-Grade side at the tender age of 17.
"I couldn't have got to where I am today without the 100% backing of my parents. My dad Brett and mum Lisa have been a massive influence on me,” he said.
"My Whitsunday Under-15 coach Ashley Sheehy helped a lot with my development. He was always doing extra with me, giving advice and little things to work on and improve each week.
"I just want to say thank you to the Whitsunday community who got behind me; there are too many people to thank from my school and old club who really helped me.”
O'Donnell said he would love to go the whole way and wear the Australian colours, but at the moment he was just taking it one step at a time. "It feels unreal. The hard work is playing off and I think I'm on the right path,” he said.