The highways heading into Coffs Harbour this weekend will become a little busier that expected, with a contingent of more than 30 family and friends to descend on the NSW north coast town to celebrate the NRL debut of young front rower Franklin Pele.
With the withdrawal of Andrew Fifita from the Sharks line up due to a hamstring injury, the door has been opened for the 20-year-old Pele to become the 545th Cronulla first grade player when he runs out onto the C.ex International Stadium tomorrow to take on the Titans.
The Sharks team reacted positively to the news when delivered on Wednesday, with Pele and his large contingent of supporters doing well to keep a lid on the news and the hype surrounding his first NRL game until the day before the match.
Sharks coach Josh Hannay was proud to be handing out a debut jersey to Pele, a barnstorming young forward who has represented NSW at age group level, played Australian Schoolboys and has come through the Club’s elite junior pathways.
“Its a great story and its always a privilege to give a player his first jersey. Franklin has worked really hard through pre season, and he's a Cronulla junior, he's come through the grades and he’s worked hard to get here,” Hannay said.
“He’s a big body, people wont miss him out there, he’ll stand out, and we wont be putting too much on his shoulders tomorrow.
“They’re will hopefully be an opportunity to get him out there, get a feel for what the NRL is about and I’m sure it will be the first of many games in the NRL for Franklin,” Hannay added.
From South Auckland, the New Zealand born Pele moved with his family to Sydney, where he was spotted by the Sharks at age 12.
He represented the Sharks at an under-16’s Matthews Cup level and after scoring two tries for the Newtown Jets last weekend, running through and over senior opposition, has progressed to where his claims to a spot in the NRL side could no longer be ignored.
Sharks forwards coach Luke Lewis was at PointsBet Stadium when Pele received his news.
“The boys erupted when he was told. It was incredible the reaction. He’s a much-loved bloke and we all went berserk,’’ Lewis told the Daily Telegraph.
“I was there in the pre-season and he was one player who just kept working hard on what he needed to do and he never complained and just kept running and running.
“He never gave up. Others would give up, but he didn’t.
“He’s as strong as an ox, but only time in first grade and time on the field will get him where he needs to go,” Lewis said.
Pele will come off the bench and debut in jersey 20 in tomorrow’s clash with the Gold Coast, the match to kick off at 2.00pm at the C.ex Stadium.