John Morris grew up idolising a tough bush footy player by the name of Glen Wilton, who just happened to be his brother-in-law.
Fast forward a few years and the son of Glen Wilton watched, learnt from and looked up to his uncle John, a 300-game NRL player who in 2019 would be appointed Sharks NRL coach.
Now this weekend in something of unique circumstances the Sharks coach will have the honour of presenting an NRL debut jersey to his nephew Teig Wilton, with the south-coast raised 20-year-old set to run out as the 539th Cronulla first grade player in the local derby on Saturday night.
With an impressive junior resume and now in his second full year in the Sharks NRL training group, Wilton has been afforded no short cuts or favouritism from ‘uncle’ John and has earned his opportunity in the top grade.
“He first came up from Narooma when he was 16, he was living with myself, Michelle and the kids, but I didn’t feel he wasn’t ready so suggested he go back home,” Morris recalled.
“He came back the following year, lived with a homestay family, went to Endeavour High School, played for the Australian Schoolboys and never looked back.
“I presented him with the club’s Junior Rep player of the Year after his first SG Ball season with us then from there Teig captained our Flegg team which won the competition in 2018, captained the NSW Under 20’s a year later and was a member of the Newtown team that won the Canterbury Cup last season. He jokes that all that’s left is to win an NRL Grand Final.
“When he’s at training now I don’t look at him as family, he’s another player who I care for equally and he’s earnt this NRL debut through his own hard work and dedication,” Morris added.
In emphasising his impressive junior pedigree, a look through the list of names in the 2017 Australian Schoolboy team goes a long way to explaining why Wilton is held in such high regard at the Sharks, with many of his former teammates having already made the transition to the NRL.
Wilton packed down in the second row of that Australian side alongside David Fifita, Dragons centre Zac Lomax and Rabbitoh Campbell Graham, with Eels young gun Dylan Brown the halfback.
In signing a new deal and extending his time at the Cronulla club earlier this year, Wilton rejected several offers from rival NRL clubs to remain at the Sharks.
“He had a lot of clubs after him, some offering more money than we could,” Morris said. “But he saw a genuine pathway here and he really wanted to play NRL at the Sharks.”
Now through Wilton’s hard work and with a spot in the NRL 17 opening up as a result of the suspension handed down to Briton Nikora and an injury to Scott Sorensen, he gets his chance in what is annually one of the biggest games on the Sharks schedule.
Even though the local derby in these exceptional circumstances in 2020 will be played in front of a small crowd, the intensity is still certain to be high, with Wilton looking forward to the challenge.
“As a Sharks junior having come through the grades, to debut in a local derby is exactly what I wanted,” Wilton said. “It’s something you talk about as a kid, to be able to play in a big game like this, I can’t wait to get into it.
Primarily an edge back rower, although with experience as a middle forward and even as a centre, having played all those positions during his season with the Newtown Jets last year, the role Wilton will tackle tomorrow has yet to be revealed.
Wherever it is though, he is sure to bring plenty of energy and enthusiasm.
“I’m just excited. Excited to get in there and to rip in with the boys,” he added.
Sharks Media caught up with Wilton in giving members and fans some insight into the latest debutant, Shark #539 Teig Wilton.
See the video link above, now playing on Sharks media.