Toby Warren’s rugby league journey so far has been unconventional yet he is set to feature tomorrow for the Yorkshire Academies team to face Lancashire in the second match of their Origin series.
The match will see the best players of academy age from the white and red rose counties take to the field at Salford Red Devils’ AJ Bell Stadium, yet while the vast majority have come through the academy systems at Super League clubs, teenager Warren’s journey saw him come to the sport late and progress through the Knights’ Excel programme.
“I started playing football with my pals in Haxby and then I got forced to be a goalkeeper for a school tournament,” he revealed.
“I pretty much fluked playing ace and got taken by York City’s academy side but, after two years, I was released.”
That, for many, would have been tough but it led to Warren picking up a rugby ball.
“I first starting playing rugby league when I was fourteen after enjoying it at school in PE. I went to New Earswick All Blacks because that where my mates played at that time.”
After moving from there to fellow community club Heworth, Warren then took part in the Excel programme. Excel is York City Knights Foundation’s open access, free to attend player development programme that gives children across a range of age groups exposure to high quality coaching and facilities.
That work has seen the likes of Myles Harrison, AJ Towse and – via Hull Kingston Rovers – Brad Ward go into the Knights’ squad alongside Warren and that pathway’s success so far can be judged by the performances the teenagers have delivered when called upon.
Discussing the programme, Warren speaks highly. “Excel gave me a platform to showcase my skills and show my potential to the likes of Fordy. He obviously saw something in me that was worth investing time and effort into and he brought me into the first team squad.
“I’ve developed huge amounts as a player and as a person. I was lucky enough to debut for my hometown club as a seventeen year old and I’ve had some ace experiences along the way, none more so than the trip to Wembley Stadium last year.”
In the first team squad, Warren is joined by a duo of back-rowers who have performed at the elite level across careers spanning hundreds of matches in the shape of captain Chris Clarkson and Danny Kirmond, as well as one of the most successful players in the Super League era in the shape of assistant coach Brett Delaney.
“Being a young kid in an environment full of adults has helped my development massively. Being surrounded by people like Clarky, KIrmo and Frog (Delaney), who all have huge amounts of experience, appearances and success in Super League can only bring someone like me benefits.”
This week has seen Warren join up with the Yorkshire Academy squad for a training camp ahead of Sunday’s match.
“The Yorkshire camp has been ace so far, I’m really enjoying being around a new set of lads and being able to showcase my ability at a high level.
“I’m really proud, as well, to be representing the Knights in this camp and, hopefully, I can do everyone proud on Sunday.”
Warren has been included in the seventeen for Yorkshire on Sunday and is in line to come off the bench for his representative debut. The match kicks off at 5:15pm at Salford’s AJ Bell Stadium.
Our Excel Player Development Programme runs throughout the year with different blocks for each age group. You can find up to date information on upcoming blocks on our website HERE.