Rugby Union

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Debut against Kiwis will cap oarsome rise to top

IF Cadeyrn Neville continues his rapid rise from rower to Wallaby, expect to see the little-known 23-year-old facing the All Blacks on August 18. He'll be the tallest player on the field with a massive grin on his face.

Up until a little over three years ago, the 202-centimetre Manly product had never set foot in a lineout let alone contemplated representing the Wallabies. He was a rower, aiming for the London Olympics, but instead found a surprise opportunity at Keirle Park when he went to Marlins training one day, bright-eyed and naive, inquiring about rugby.

Within months he was thrust into Manly's first grade side in the Shute Shield, before being scouted for the ACT Brumbies academy. He was eventually signed by the Melbourne Rebels for the 2012 season on a $40,000 extended playing squad contract.

Like any player, the Xavier College product would have been happy just to train full-time with the likes of Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor. Instead, he found himself making his debut in the Rebels' starting side against the Bulls. Eight Super Rugby matches later, and the likeable lock is on the verge of making a shock debut for the Wallabies.

''I've almost been playing rugby for three-and-a-half years now,'' Neville says. ''And if the baptism of my rugby career so far continues - being thrown in the deep end - I'll probably find myself up against the All Blacks. But I don't expect that to happen this year.''

But with an injury list that includes star locks James Horwill and Dan Vickerman, it's becoming more likely that Neville's baptism of fire will continue. Not bad for a young talent, whose main goal this season was to help Manly to the Shute Shield title.


''Three years ago, I just wanted to play rugby and have fun,'' he said. ''I went down to Keirle Park in Manly and asked if I could start playing with them. I just felt like doing it that winter to change it up from league. Some people had suggested that rugby might be more suited to me because of my height, so I thought I'd give it a try. I didn't really know many people down there but was friends with them all soon enough.

''And I guess, like anyone, you set your goals at that top, dream level - the stars, you know. And you just hope you reach the clouds. But I've gone a little bit past the clouds now.''

And how. Until that fateful day at Keirle Park, Neville was one of Australia's main prospects for rowing at the Olympics. He'd grown up rowing, won a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport and was being groomed to break Australia's single scull drought at the Games.

But as he watches the Australian team struggle in London, Neville has no second thoughts about giving up the oars.

''I started my rugby career about a week after my last rowing nationals,'' he said. ''I was in the AIS for a year, in a development program that was aimed at getting single scullers into London. It was meant to be a two-year thing, but various funding cuts meant that our program was going to get canned. So I went back to my club Mosman, and that's where you start footing all your own bills again and things started getting a little bit tough.''

One match payment for the Wallabies would have been enough for Neville to continue rowing for another four or five years.

''My first year was definitely smashing beers after the games - that wasn't all that long ago,'' Neville says with a laugh.

''And then the next year, I went straight into first grade when Manly took a bit of a leap of faith in me.''

You get a feeling someone is looking over him. Most likely, it is his late father, Chris. ''Dad is not around any more but my mum is pretty proud - I try not to get into all that gushy stuff,'' he says. ''Dad was definitely keen on his sports and a big sports fan, and I know he'd be pretty happy to see me doing this sort of thing. If I got to play for the Wallabies one day, I know he'd be pretty proud of that.''