Storm on horizon
MACKAY has already produced some big names in the NRL and now the next generation is starting to emerge.
A handful of young talents has secured development scholarships with NRL clubs.
One of them is Ashten Windsor, 15, who has been signed on a two-year scholarship with the Melbourne Storm.
Also earmarked for bright rugby league futures are Jackson McCormack (Storm), Kalyn Ponga (Broncos) and Kellen Jenner (Cowboys).
Windsor currently plays in the Mackay junior competition for Norths' under-15 team - the same club where current Melbourne Storm centre Dane Nielsen started out.
Though Nielsen's pathway to Melbourne included a stint at Cronulla, it's been at the Storm where he has flourished. Last year he played for Queensland in the State of Origin.
Windsor's mum, Hayley, said Melbourne's recruitment manager, Paul Bunn, had spotted her son at the Capricornia schoolboy rugby league trials in Mackay last month.
The Storm contacted Mackay State High School, where Windsor plays football under coach Janan Billings, and set up a meeting.
"The whole family is very, very proud," Hayley said of her son's scholarship.
Windsor, whose preferred position is the centres, started playing league for Magpies when he was five before linking up with Norths in the under-11 age group.
He said the Storm scholarship involved a camp once a year with NRL squad members, while club officials would also monitor his performances in Mackay.
Windsor has grown up a fan of the North Queensland Cowboys and rates dynamic fullback Matt Bowen as his favourite player.
However, he'd love the opportunity to play NRL for Melbourne.
With the Storm scholarship now under his belt, Windsor is determined to keep working on his game this season.
"I just want to keep improving," he said.
Billings said NRL clubs had recognised the talent Mackay was producing and it was exciting that young players could be scouted without having to leave town.
He said the clubs would now be keeping an eye on their scholarship holders' attitudes on and off the field, including with their schoolwork and fitness.