Rising RugbyWA Senior Academy players Ollie Callan and Jackson Pugh have proved the ongoing success of the strong development pathways in place in Western Australia, with both graduating into the Western Force ranks for Global Rapid Rugby’s 2020 home-and-away season.
Callan, a Wanneroo product, sent a clear message of his ability to impact at the professional level after being selected to play against Malaysia Valke in the final Rapid Rugby Showcase match in August. The 19-year-old has represented Australia in the Oceania Rugby U20’s Championship earlier this year and is ecstatic about joining the Force program full-time.
"To officially become a Western Force player is something I have worked so hard to achieve, it feels pretty surreal at the moment, but I'm really excited,” Callan said.
"Being part of the Senior Academy was great as I was able to get to know some of the professional team and see first hand how hard they worked to play at an elite level.
"I remember going down to Force games when I was younger and getting signatures from Tessy (Heath Tessmann) and Sitchy (Ian Prior) and now I am training with them and in the same meeting rooms. It’s unreal.”
The hard-tackling backrower bounced between rugby codes growing up but credits the RugbyWA Academy in providing a clear pathway to harness his raw ability.
“I played rugby as a young kid and then decided to give league a crack with a few friends when I was about 13,” Callan said.
“When I was invited to be a part of the RugbyWA Academy I looked at how they were developing players and knew I had to take the opportunity with both hands. And now here I am signing on to play with the Force, it’s really incredible and I’m so grateful to everyone for their support in helping me get to this point.”
Academy teammate Jackson Pugh, 19, has also put pen to paper and says just being around the team on a full-time basis for the past few weeks has opened his eyes to how much more he can grow and learn as a player.
“I’ve looked up to the Force since I was a little kid, going to the games each week. To sign with the club and represent the jersey is like a dream come true,” Pugh said.
“The Senior Academy was great, it provided an excellent place to learn about the game as well as develop my skills. You never stop learning and now that I’m with the Force squad day in and day out I’m just loving everything about it. All of the boys are very happy to share their experiences and the coaching staff are great.”
With mentor and former Future Force student Tevin Ferris also on board for 2020, Pugh is looking to follow in his footsteps.
“I really look up to Tevin. I remember coming up against him when I was in U15’s and he was in U20’s, he was playing Number 8 and was a standout even then,” Pugh said.
“He’s a big guy, I can remember being a bit scared of him in that game but training alongside him now I get the chance to learn from him which is great for me.”
Ensuring West Australian talent can progress onto the professional stage is high on the Force agenda and Head Coach Tim Sampson has been working closely with the RugbyWA Senior Academy to realise that outcome.
“It is important that we keep continuing the pathway that has been set up here and that these guys who have a heap of talent stay in WA and see the progression to the Force senior squad,” Sampson said.
“Obviously we are rapt to have quality youth transitioning from the academy, both Ollie and Jackson have a huge year ahead of them. We’ll help them develop here within our program and in turn put them in the best position to be part of the Junior Wallabies next year as well.
“It’s obviously not an overnight thing, they have worked very hard. Both boys have trained strongly with us over the last year and that has allowed us to keep a close eye on their development in conjunction with the work they have done through the RugbyWA Academy program," Sampson said.