Meet Australia’s newest schoolboy sensation, Jangala Bennet. He’s the latest prodigy turning heads in Queensland’s GPS system for rugby powerhouse Nudgee College – whose famous alumni include James O’Connor, Will Chambers and Sean McMahon.
However, the pathway into rugby for the 17-year-old started like most young players in Australia, with the 13-man code.
Of proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, Bennet grew up in Queensland where rugby league was number one.
“He played rugby league from five years of age until he was 16, but as he grew older his peers grew bigger and Jangala became less interested in league because he was being overlooked.” says his father, Leaf.
He took part in his first game of union at 13, but playing in a second tier competition didn’t spark much interest. It took same sage advice from someone who saw the potential in him.
“It was a teacher, a kiwi bloke called Mr Gallan, who encouraged Jangala to play his own natural style and not change for anyone. That was some of the best advice ever given.”
An opportunity to attend Nudgee College came up after being identified in an u18 National Indigenous team as a 16 year old put him a path towards arguably the biggest annual clash of schoolboy rugby in Australia: the Nudgee vs Terrace 1st XV match.
The Terrace fixture was scheduled for round one of the season and would be Bennet’s 1st XV debut.
“The pressure he felt was intense but he said that he fed off that atmosphere and hype. He got his first touch and made the first real break of the game, the crowd went crazy and this is when he just got in the zone.” says Leaf.
In front of an estimated crowd of 7,000, and even more on live stream, one the best chapters of this historic 1st XV rivalry unfolded putting Bennet centre stage. Down 25-31 with time up on the clock, Nudgee’s last possession began 40 metres out, “all Jangala remembers is telling the fullback to go to the wing and for the his team mates to get the ball in his hands because he was adamant he could make something happen”.
The moment will become folklore.
A loose offload had Nudgee back pedalling, before the ball was picked up and swung back to the middle into Bennet’s hands, “It all became crystal clear, it felt like every thing was in slow motion.” he recounts.
Bennet skipped around the first defender before turning on the acceleration and stepping the next two, cutting back off the right foot against the grain. With the fullback to beat, Bennet drew the man and threw a ball out to his wing to dive over.
With everything riding on the conversion, even more drama unfolded. The missed conversion was called back for a re-kick after an infringement from Terrace. The second conversion sealed a crazy 32-31 comeback win for Nudgee,
“Everyone was on a natural high for a week afterwards” says Jangala.
For Bennet, the big performance came off the back of playing for the Queensland Schoolboys team on the wing, where he showed glimpses of his special footwork at the National Championships.
Bennet’s aim is to strive for consistency in his performances and continue to maintain high standards in preparation, staying true to his style of play. With one year left at Nudgee, Bennet is aiming to achieve selection again for the Queensland Schoolboys and push his case for the Australian Schoolboys team.
Footage provided to Rugby Pass by Hugh Bray.
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