LEAGUE: Magpies leave nest to further league careers
RUGBY LEAGUE: Two of the Lower Clarence Magpies stars from this season's Under 18s outfit have flown north for next year's winter as they chase their dreams in Queensland.
Magpies halves combination Vinnie Williams and Merrick Skinner have played the last decade side by side. However, they will make their debuts in the Intrust Super Cup Colts competition next season facing opposite each other.
Williams, who was the 2016 NRRRL Under 18s Player of the Year, will join Redcliffe Dolphins for the next two years while Skinner will join Brisbane-based rivals Norths Devils.
It has been a long road for the Clarence Coast juniors but both were excited to be doing it together.
"This is a massive step to make," Williams said "It is a whole lot different to playing club football in Maclean.
"But having each other there is going to make the transition that much easier. We have been best mates for years, we have known each other since birth.
"Having someone there who knows what you are going through and you can soundboard off is great."
Williams joined his Dolphins teammates two weeks ago and put straight into a strict pre-season training regime as the Colts outfit aim to go one better than last season and reach the grand final.
While the halfback said adjusting to life in Brisbane may take some time he was blessed to have the support of his cousin Dan Randall, who was part of the Dolphins Super Cup grand final campaign last year.
"I am living with Dan at the moment and that has made the move easy because I already have family here," he said. "Leaving home was tough but it is something I have had to do to go further."
For Skinner, he said the biggest shock came when he walked into the Devils dressing room for the first time earlier this week.
"You should have just seen the size of the boys in the dressing room," Skinner said. "They were all these big Kiwi giants, and they're on my team. Imagine my opponents.
"I have versed people bigger than me my whole life so it is something I am used to. The club also wants me to put on some weight so I will be eating heaps."
Skinner admitted there was an extra level of pressure on the pair with the Super Cup competition being an unforgiving playing field.
"If you don't perform up here they will drop you straight away," he said. "It is a harsh reality.
"But it just means we will need to perform. You play for your spot in the team each week and that is all you can do."
Skinner said the support from back home in the Clarence Valley was "unreal", especially from those closest to the players.
"My big sister Crystal bought me a car just to get me up here," he said. "She has helped me out so much. My parents are also so supportive of the move. You can just see they want the best for me."
Lower Clarence Magpies president Darrin Heron is one of the pair's biggest supporters back home with the official excited to see club prospects achieve on bigger stages.
While it will be a double-edged sword for the club as they lose the playmakers who guided the team to last season's major semi-final, Heron had nothing but pride in his players.
"We wish them the best of luck for 2017," Heron said. "Good on them for giving it a go, you're only young once and these opportunities don't come around all the time."
In what will be a fitting start to their careers in the competition the Magpies alumni will meet in the opening trial match when Dolphins host the Devils.
"All I have got to say is he has got to watch out," Williams joked.
"I reckon it will be great to go against him, it will be a sick rivalry. Playing against the best only makes you better."