Brisbane Broncos player Xavier Coates is seen during training in Brisbane, Tuesday, June 16, 2020. (AAP Image/Dan Peled) NO ARCHIVING
Brisbane Broncos player Xavier Coates is seen during training in Brisbane, Tuesday, June 16, 2020. (AAP Image/Dan Peled) NO ARCHIVING

NRL’s fastest man dreamt of Olympic glory

Broncos backline monster Xavier Coates has revealed he had his heart set on competing at the Olympics after almost quitting rugby league to pursue a career in athletics.

As he prepares for his maiden Queensland derby in Saturday's clash against the Titans, the towering young gun rated Brisbane's version of Greg Inglis says there was a time when he was dedicated to representing Papua New Guinea, his country of birth, in long jump and triple jump.

After just five NRL games, the 19-year-old already has a claim-to-fame in the NRL - eclipsing Josh Addo-Carr as rugby league's fastest man after clocking a top speed of 36.9km/h in last week's 27-6 loss to Newcastle.

As a comparison, the quickest man on the planet, Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt, recorded a top speed of 44.7km/h in his world-record 9.58sec over 100 metres.

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Coates is one of the NRL’s brightest prospects. AAP Image/Dan Peled.
Coates is one of the NRL’s brightest prospects. AAP Image/Dan Peled.

Anyone who watched Coates streak away from the Knights to score a 95m intercept try could have easily confused him with Queensland Origin ace Inglis in his pomp, but the Broncos flyer was almost lost to the sport.

As a 15-year-old, Coates, tall and gangly, could not make junior representative teams on the Gold Coast.

Frustrated and disillusioned, the Marymount College product turned his attention to athletics. His 194cm frame was perfectly suited to the jumps and after competing in the Queensland Championships as a sprinter, Coates had visions of reaching the greatest sporting show on Earth.

"I didn't expect to be playing for the Broncos at all. I thought I was going to be doing athletics," he said.

"I definitely had goals (of an athletics career) coming out of high school. I wanted to try and go to the World Juniors. It was a bit far away but that was my goal.

"I also had goals of becoming an Olympic athlete and try and represent PNG.

"But the thing I learnt coming up was that life never really goes to plan.

"As soon as rugby league became involved in my life, I didn't really take it too far or too seriously with athletics.

"I was invested in rugby league. I'm very excited about the times ahead and very grateful for my opportunity with the Broncos."

Coates is already a PNG international. AAP Image/Dan Peled
Coates is already a PNG international. AAP Image/Dan Peled

 

The turning point came at the age of 16. Coates was being coached at Marymount College and the Currumbin Eagles by Matt Geyer, the former NSW Origin winger who played 262 top-grade games for the Melbourne Storm.

Geyer took Coates under his wing and when his physical growth matched his natural talent, the 'X-Factor' took off.

In 12 months, Coates went from a promising athletics career to having a raft of NRL clubs knocking on his door.

Coates was in the Titans' development backyard, but the Broncos' army of scouts struck first.

Standing 193cm (six foot four) and weighing 103kg, Coates is one centimetre shorter and three kilograms lighter than Inglis in his prime.

The Broncos winger admired former Brisbane and Titans utility back David Mead because of their PNG bloodlines, but he remains in awe of Inglis' feats.

"As a kid, because I was born in PNG and brought up in a PNG family, my idol was definitely David Mead," Coates said.

"Outside the PNG system, (I looked up to) Greg Inglis. Inglis pretty much tore the comp apart.

"Those two were my idols.

Coates scored an incredible try against the Knights. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.
Coates scored an incredible try against the Knights. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.

"I don't really listen too much to the comparisons ... I don't think you can really compare me to 'GI'. I haven't really done too much or shown as much potential as GI.

"I just have to cement my spot in the team and work as hard as I can."

Coates says his background in athletics has helped him as a professional rugby league player.

"I used to do sprint training which helped with my long jump and triple jump," he said.

"Getting that right and cementing those mechanics when I was younger definitely helped coming through the NRL system because I already knew the technique.

"I've just tried to improve on that. We have the right coaches here at the Broncos to help do that.

"I'm not too fussed at how fast I ran or anything like that, I just want to do my all for the team."

Five outstanding games in 56 days last year confirmed Coates' extraordinary talent. In that period, he went from the Tweed Heads under-18s to a senior Test debut for PNG to his maiden NRL game for the Broncos.

On May 12, he scored two tries, including a 90m Inglis-style special, to pilot Tweed to the national under-18s premiership.

Coates made his Test debut for Papua New Guinea last year. Picture by Tim Hunter.
Coates made his Test debut for Papua New Guinea last year. Picture by Tim Hunter.

On June 5, Coates was man of the match in the Queensland under-18s 34-12 defeat of NSW.

On June 22, he made his Test debut for PNG against Samoa at age 18, before his NRL debut on July 7, scoring a try in the Baby Broncos' stunning away upset of Cronulla.

That eight-week period convinced Broncos coach Anthony Seibold Coates was ready for regular NRL action.

"Xavier is doing a teaching degree away from rugby league so he's a very level-headed kid," Seibold said.

"He's had a real positive start to his career. Xavier is a wonderful young man and he will keep working hard I have no doubt about that.

"Last year, I put Xavier, Tom Dearden and Tesi Niu in our Football Factory where they didn't spend time playing football. They actually went into our gym program where they spent time being developed from a physical perspective.

"You can see the results now. Xavier had the body of a boy last year but he is now like a man physically. He is 103kg and has really toughened up physically in size and strength.

"It's been good to see Xavier's growth. I had no doubt he had the talent to play NRL but he needed to work on himself physically. He has a huge future here."

Originally published as NRL's fastest man dreamt of Olympic glory



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