A RUGBY league starlet from South Elmsall has fulfilled a dream of signing for his boyhood club Leeds Rhinos.
Connor Ballinger, 15, has penned scholarship terms with the Super League club after impressing Rhinos scouts over the last year.
The Minsthorpe Community College pupil came through the Castleford Tigers youth ranks and also plays for Stanley Rangers at junior level.
And although admitting it was tough to leave behind his friends at the Tigers, Ballinger is thrilled at the prospect of playing for the club he supports.
“It was an awful decision to make because I’d made so many friends [at Castleford] and got used to the systems that are played there,” he said.
“But I’m a Leeds fan and now I’m just really excited to be playing with the Rhinos, and a bit nervous at the same time.”
The young full-back, who names Sam Tomkins, of Wigan Warriors, as the Super League player he admires most, has already started training at the Headingley club once a week.
He’ll step up to three training sessions next year with the hope of earning a contract with the Rhinos Academy at the end of 2012.
“We’ll have just under a year to try and impress the coaches and win a contract with the Academy,” he said.
“It’s going to be a really important season, probably the most important season I’ve had as a rugby league player so far but I’m looking forward to it.”
The aim is to one day pull on the famous blue and yellow shirts and run out with the Rhinos first team at Headingley.
He already trains at Leeds’ Kirkstall Road training base, where the Rhinos’ first team also train.
But Ballinger isn’t counting his chickens just yet and will continue his studies at Minsthorpe Community College while playing and training in the Rhinos’ youth set-up.
“He’s been very grown up about the whole thing and has his head screwed on,” said his dad Craig.
“He’s staying on at college for another two years; his studies are very important to him.
“He also went in to discuss the scholarship with Leeds on his own, he didn’t need me with him, so it shows what kind of character he has.”
Ballinger will continue to play for Stanley while with Leeds over the next year, but will start competitive action with the Rhinos U16s in 2012.
A place in the Rhinos Academy at the end of next season is the next step on the ladder.
See this week’s Hemsworth and South Elmsall Express for all the latest sports news from around the area.