Former Cootamundra local, Sam Gash, has left town at just 16 years of age to move to Canberra to chase his NRL dream.

Sam has been contracted to the Canberra Raiders Harold Matthews Squad for the last three years, being selected when he was just 13.

The young footballing prodigy has recently inked a new contract with the Raiders, tying him to the club for the next two seasons, where he’ll move through the ranks and play in the SG Ball Cup next year.

Prior to his relocation to Canberra, Sam, accompanied by his parents, would travel to Canberra three days a week for training, and then again to Canberra or Sydney on the weekends for games.

After being asked to attend Erindale College in Canberra by Ash Barnes as part of their Talented Sports Program to play rugby league for the school for the National Schoolboys Cup, Sam and his family decided it would be best to move to Canberra full-time to pursue his football career.

Sam moved to Canberra at the beginning of May at the start of Term 2 at Erindale College to continue his Year 11 studies, living with family on his dad’s side.

He is also currently playing in the NRL Schoolboys Cup, now called the Peter Mulholland Cup for Erindale College.

Sam was also recently selected in the ACT Under 18s Schoolboys squad to attend the Australian Schoolboys Championships in Redcliffe earlier this month.

The Times spoke to Sam to find out how he is settling into life living in Canberra.

“There has been a bit of a transition from the country to the city. The speed of the game is so much quicker and the physicality as well.

You’re playing against the best players in your age in Australia, so it’s pretty unbelievable,” Sam said.

“I’m aspiring to make the NRL through the junior ranks with the Raiders. That’s what I want to do, I’ve just got to work hard to get there.”

Sam admitted that since moving out of home he hasn’t always found things easy, but he is slowly transitioning to the change.

“I got a bit homesick to start with, which was kind of expected. Luckily, dad had family in Canberra, so it made the transition a lot smoother to be here living with family and people I know.”

Following his move, Gash has put a lot on his plate, playing club football for the Woden Rams Under 19’s, which means he is training up to 11 sessions a week – including field and gym work across his various team commitments, as well as cramming in his school schedule as well.

“It gets a lot at times. But at school, rugby league is one of our subjects, so a couple of those sessions are actually school based,” Sam explained.

“On Wednesday’s, I’m doing about three sessions a day, including on-field and gym so it gets a bit much, but it’s spaced out well enough where I’ve got one session virtually each day. It’s about preparing and recovering right after each session to get the body fully recovered for the next session. “The Erindale College is very supportive of my Raiders program, as well as Rams and school footy as well.” Sam will be turning 17 in November, and is planning his career pathway not just for this season, but for years to come.

“I’m with the Canberra Raiders for the next two years as part of my contract. I’ll be playing SG Ball next year which is under 19’s, and then it’s just about playing good footy week in and week out to earn a contract extension for a couple more years,” he said.

“We train at the old Raiders HQ in Bruce, but we’ve done a few sessions at Braddon where we see a fare few of the NRL players come and go and it’s just crazy to see the players you watch on TV are right in front of you.”

The young country boy is showing that bush footy can match it with those in the city. Sam started his rugby league pathway with the Cootamundra Bulldogs in juniors, before moving to the Wagga Kangaroos to continue his progression.

“In 2020, in my last year of juniors for under 15’s in Coota, we couldn’t fill a side. We didn’t have enough numbers to put a team together. I played Group 9 representative with a few of the boys from Wagga and they said to come over to play for the Roos, so I sorted it out.

“I spoke to mum and dad, and they were happy for me to go to Wagga and play footy over there. I played for the Roos in under 15s and then transitioned from juniors to seniors with them.”

Sam predominantly plays his footy at fullback and has a strong kicking game, taking the conversions as well.

He also boasts the achievement of being the 2021 Sullivan Cup leading try scorer.

The Times also spoke to Sam’s mother, Cindy Gash, who is super proud of her son’s achievements.

“He’s loved the step-up to the level. He’s a pretty determined and focused boy. He lives with family which has worked out well. He is catching the bus to school until he can get his license in November,” Cindy said.

“He’s worked hard to get to where he is. His ultimate goal is to play in the NRL one day.

“We’ve always supported Sam and tried to help him make it happen.

There are some days where a lot of travel is involved, but my husband and I are both very lucky that our employers are very supportive as well.

“We are very proud of what he’s achieved so far.”

Tim Warren