When a 17-year-old Isaah Yeo last walked off Alex Oval, the most likely way he saw himself returning was as Dubbo CYMS captain-coach like his father.
A proud Dubbo junior, Yeo will tick off one of the most unique career highlights on Sunday when he plays in the maiden NRL match in his home town.
Instead of leading out the “away” team for CYMS against Dubbo Macquarie as he’d once thought he might, Yeo will captain Penrith against ‘hosts’ South Sydney.
“It’s just different, you don’t get opportunities like this to play where you’re from,” Yeo told AAP.
“Being from the country, it always feels like it was a little bit harder to make it or a little bit harder to get an opportunity down here.
“So to be able to take something back there where you don’t think you’ll play ever again, unless maybe you’re retired and go back as captain coach, is unreal.
“To be able to do this while playing in NRL it’s bloody exciting.”
Yeo knows Saturday’s match in Dubbo means more to the town than most, with the region having been battered by everything from drought, floods and mice plagues in recent years.
Both Yeo and fellow Dubbo local Matt Burton have been inundated for tickets.
Yeo’s dad Justin is one of seven children and a former captain-coach of the CYMS.
Yeo still remembers fondly a Canterbury pre-season match against Canberra in 2010 where Dubbo boy Andrew Ryan was mobbed by fans post-match.
However, junior numbers have shrunk in the older age groups, as the bush battles to maintain its playing numbers.
“I was a kid who loved football so that was just absolute highlight of my year,” Yeo said.
“I still remember it now and I’m 26.
“Numbers have dwindled a bit since then … so I’m hoping games like this sort of help boost it back up.”
Sunday’s game has already sold out, and so it should be.
Of the 21 games taken to the NSW bush since Annandale took Western Suburbs to Goulburn in 1914, this week’s clash is the pick of them.
Penrith are yet to drop a game this year while Souths have only lost twice since their 2020 season was ended by the Panthers in last year’s preliminary final.
In many ways it’s an upgrade on the old City-Country battle.
Jarome Luai and Cody Walker’s halves battle is intriguing while Damien Cook meets his NSW back-up in Apisai Koroisau.
Yeo gets a chance press for NSW’s No.13 spot, against a Rabbitohs’ pack that includes Queensland’s Jai Arrow.