NRL rivals South Sydney have rocked the Gold Coast by joining forces with powerhouse league nursery Keebra Park in a crushing first blow to new Titans coach Des Hasler.
This masthead can reveal the Rabbitohs have completed a Redfern raid by crossing the Queensland border to steal the prestigious Gold Coast school that has produced a generation of NRL stars.
It is the second development bombshell in three months for the Titans after Hostplus Cup grand finalists Burleigh severed ties with the Gold Coast to sign an affiliate deal with Queensland derby rivals the Broncos.
Now South Sydney have infiltrated the Gold Coast’s backyard.
The Rabbitohs have brokered a three-year partnership deal with Keebra Park, the golden schoolboy factory that has delivered the likes of David Fifita, Mo Fotuaika, Payne Haas, Reece Walsh and AJ Brimson to the NRL. The Gold Coast school has helped nurture a number of NRL top-liners with links to the Rabbitohs, including Benji Marshall, Ben Te’o, Jesse Arthars, Jaxson Paulo and current Queensland Origin forward Jai Arrow.
Two-time premiership coach Hasler officially starts at the Titans on November 1 and he would have relished the prospect of mining the multitude of rugby league talent that originate from Keebra Park High.
But Hasler must now keep one eye on the recruitment activities of the Broncos and Rabbitohs, who will have a solid foothold on the Gold Coast via Burleigh and Keebra Park respectively.
“This is a great opportunity for the club to expand its pathways into Queensland with the best rugby league school academy in Queensland,” Souths chief operating officer Brock Schaefer said.
“Boys and girls from Keebra Park State High School will have the opportunity to access elite coaching through the Rabbitohs and in turn we will have the chance to have a hand in developing the best young, elite playing and coaching talent in the game.
“This exclusive affiliation agreement will enhance the work we’re already doing in this space and will provide benefits at the elite levels in the not-too-distant future. We’re very excited about this partnership with Keebra Park State High School, which will be led from our end by Tyrone McCarthy who has extensive experience in building academies as well as Queensland Rugby League.
“We can’t wait to get started (with Keebra Park) as we build into season 2024 and beyond.”
The Titans have had a turbulent history with Keebra Park and tensions appeared to finally ease three years ago when the Gold Coast struck a fresh partnership deal with the famous school.
But the parties have gone their separate ways again in a move that will put pressure on Titans bosses to stave off a two-pronged attack from South Sydney and the Broncos for the cream of Gold Coast’s rugby league talent.
The parties were locked in a Mexican stand-off for some time during negotiations over a possible extension.
It is understood Keebra Park wanted the Titans to part ways with rival leading schools Marsden High and Palm Beach Currumbin to sign an exclusivity arrangement.
That was not palatable to the Titans, who were hoping to continue a three-way development partnership with Keebra, Marsden and PBC in their quest to snap the Gold Coast’s 16-year premiership drought. Titans chairman Dennis Watt confirmed the Coast have ceased their affiliation with Keebra Park.
“We are disappointed we were unable to satisfy Keebra Park’s demands around exclusivity as we need to act in the best interests of our entire catchment area,” he said.
“We take the view as a club that we will continue to offer a pathway for young boys and girls seeking to represent their families and communities at the highest level and where possible, we strive to keep families together.
“We proudly boast several Keebra Park alumni who are committed long-term here on the Gold Coast; including the likes of David Fifita, Tanah Boyd, AJ Brimson, Moeaki Fotuaika, Alofiana Khan-Pereira and Chantay Kiria-Ratu, with a number of these former students named to represent their family heritage in the upcoming Pacific Championships.
“We are grateful for the close working relationships we have had over the years with teachers and staff who have always had the best interests of their students, their school, and their community at heart.
“The Keebra Park school community will always be important to us, and we wish them well for the future.”
Amid the negotiating break down, the Bunnies have pounced in a move that will give South Sydney an NRL pathway for male and female talent in the south-east Queensland corridor.
Meanwhile, the Titans have launched their own raid by linking up with embattled Hostplus Cup club Ipswich. Under Gold Coast’s deal with Ipswich, the Titans will supply players to its Hostplus Cup team, which had a nightmare 2023 campaign, losing all 20 matches to finish the wooden spoon.
Watt said he was excited to partner with the Jets, who won their maiden Queensland Cup premiership in 2015, next season.
“The Ipswich region is one of Queensland’s true rugby league nurseries and we are excited to have the Jets on board with us in 2024,” Watt said.