Josh Ralph has played rugby league since he was six-years-old. At 19, the game has already been part of his life for more than a decade.
As he explains: “If I wasn’t playing I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I’ve only ever known rugby league”.
It’s a feeling those who grew up with the game can relate to.
The Gold Coast local is well on the way to achieving his dream of being a professional player as a member of the Gold Training Titans under-20s squad.
Josh is an ambitious halfback or fullback with his sights set on the NRL and playing in the Rugby League World Cup as early as next year.
“The dream is to obviously play NRL but I’ve got Welsh in me and I want to play for Wales one day,” he said.
“If those doors open up for me that would be awesome being as young as I am. That would just be unbelievable.”
What happens in the next two years could make or break Josh’s rugby league career. He openly admits to being burdened with the pressure to succeed but says most of it comes from within.
“I think every player would say they feel a lot of pressure but I think personally I put a lot of pressure on myself that’s probably not required.
“That’s just the sort of person I am. I need to be the best at everything and the pressure is crazy.
“I want to do so much for my family because they’ve just been so supportive through everything, and all my friends and my girlfriend too.”
It’s hard to explain the feeling exactly but Josh agrees it’s tied up in the fear he’ll be letting his loved ones down, if his career doesn’t go according to plan.
“The pressure does get to you sometimes, it definitely does,” he said.
But, he says there’s more support for young players now than ever before.
Josh has noticed a significant change in the way issues, like pressure, are talked about within the rugby league community. Change unfortunately triggered partly by the loss of multiple young players to suicide over the past five years.
“It has touched everyone really. We played with those boys that have taken their own lives and it’s hit hard,” he said.
“It’s just tough [because] you understand the players that took their own life, you understand what they were going through.
“Kids are putting too much pressure on themselves and now it’s becoming more of a thing to talk about it if you’re not feeling right, whereas before it wasn’t really like that.
“If one of the boys is feeling down or anything like that someone will notice and someone will talk to you straight away about it.”
The education program Gold Training is running for the Titans under 20s squad, as part of its sponsorship, is another thing helping players like Josh deal with the challenges of being aspiring professional athletes.
He is one of dozens of young rugby league players completing a Certificate IV in Youth Work with Gold Training across Queensland.
Josh says he’s picking up skills which he can fall back on while learning how to support his teammates and be a good role model and mentor at the same time. An important part of being an NRL star.
“It teaches you how to communicate in different ways with different people, dealing with kids and reading people and their body language,” he said.
“I wouldn’t mind going to university maybe later on but at the moment doing this course will be a backup for me definitely.
“Careers don’t last that long in the NRL either so it’s definitely good to having something behind you.
“I remember at school I had a youth worker. They are just the people that you’d go to for anything. I’d definitely like to be that for other kids and maybe young rugby league players.”
Check out Josh in our Meet our Under-20s series: CLICK HERE