The Sydney Roosters thought so highly of Adam Pompey they flew the-then 16-year-old schoolboy from Auckland each weekend to play and later accommodated him in a house with the likes of Joey Manu and Sitili Tupouniua.
Now Pompey hopes to show them that their investment has finally paid off by helping the Warriors to victory against the Roosters at the SCG on Sunday night.
The 22-year-old centre, who scored the winning try in last weekend’s 34-31 comeback win against Canberra, has taken six years to reach the potential that former Roosters recruitment manager Peter O’Sullivan first saw in him at the 2015 New Zealand National Secondary Schools Tournament.
It’s been a frustrating journey for both Pompey and O’Sullivan, who is now in charge of recruitment at the Warriors, but they are starting to see the rewards as he prepares to go head-to-head with Manu.
“I spent four years at the Roosters,” Pompey said. “I was flying in and out to play SG Ball while at school and then in my last two years I was playing Under-20s there but I got homesick and I came back home,” Pompey said.
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“I was living with Sitili Tupouniua, who was playing first grade for the Roosters, and some other boys in the Under-20s. Joey came before I left.
“In my first year of Under-20s he was my centre and I was playing wing so we had that New Zealand combination and [with Manu] coming from home it made it a lot easier. On and off the field he is a great bloke and he helps out where he can.”
A talented athlete who excelled at multiple sports including cricket and rugby union, Pompey would attend school at Wesley College in Pukekohe and fly to Sydney for a training session on Friday with the Roosters before playing the next day.
Among his SG Ball team-mates were Lachlan Lam and Victor Radley, while he also later played with Tupouniua and Manu.
“He was a talented boy but he took a long time to find his feet,” O’Sullivan said. “Some kids need to leave New Zealand but he is probably one of those who needed to be with his family and he was more comfortable in Auckland.”
After returning home at the end of the 2018 season, Pompey was offered a second chance by O’Sullivan, who saw him play at a Maori tournament in Rotorua.
“He just caught my eye again, he was just moving like he used to,” O’Sullivan said. “He was elite as a kid but it has been a while since he hasn’t got there so it has been frustrating and it was certainly frustrating at the Roosters.
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“To his credit we put him on a train-and-trial contract [at the Warriors], then he became a development player, then he became a top squad player and now he is almost regarded as a regular.
“He is not there yet but every time he has been challenged here he has come up with the goods so I am really pleased for him and his family.”
Since making his NRL debut in 2019, Pompey has played 20 matches for the Warriors but it has only been the past two weeks against Newcastle and the Raiders that he has started in his preferred position of left centre.
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While Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who was his idol growing up, was the hero of last weekend’s win in Canberra, Pompey scored the winning try in the final minute of the game and received praise at video review sessions this week for his defence.
“It was a special moment to get over the line and just to help out the boys. It was an amazing feeling,” Pompey said.
“I am getting confident in the way that I am playing at the moment but I have still got a lot to work on. I am really making my mark here at his club and obviously I am trying to put my best foot forward for the team.”
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