Jordan Meads: Ex-NRL talent hopes Thunder can fulfil promise
It would be easy for Jordan Meads to feel slightly bitter about how his career has turned out compared to some of his old New Zealand Warriors Under-20 team-mates.
While Konrad Hurrell, Carlos Tuimavave and Sosaia Feki are now first-grade regulars in the National Rugby League, Meads is in the north east of England playing for third-tier Gateshead Thunder.
However, the affable Kiwi is philosophical.
"We were there to have fun and make a career for ourselves," Meads told BBC Sport.
"That's definitely my aspiration, I want to play in Super League, so if I can do something like that while they're doing their thing then everyone's winning.
|Warriors Under-20s 2011 - Where are they now?|
|Full-back: George Maka - Joined Temora in NSW regional rugby league in 2013 but left after a struggle for fitness.||Wingers: Adam Henry - Joined Bradford Bulls in Super League for 2014 after a stint with Sydney Roosters. DJ Collier - Left the Warriors to join Waikato rugby union in New Zealand.|
|Centres: Sosaia Feki - Left Warriors to join Cronulla Sharks where he has been a regular fixture in first-grade. Konrad Hurrell - Became a regular in the Warriors first-grade side, capped for Tonga at RLWC2013.||Half-backs: (Five-eighth) Carlos Tuimavave - Still part of the Warriors first-grade side but has been switched to unfavoured centre-role. (Scrum-half) Jordan Meads|
|Props: Ligi Sao - Joined Manly Sea Eagles and has played first-grade but yet to feature in 2014. Donald Tony - Left Warriors after the 2012 season.||Hooker: Hikule'o Malu - Called up to the Cook Islands squad for the 2013 World Cup, plays for Howick in the NZ Auckland RL competition.|
|Second-rowers: Sio Siua Taukeiaho - Made his first-grade bow for the Warriors in 2013 but joined Sydney Roosters in 2014. Ben Henry - New Zealand international who has established himself as a regular in first-grade with the Warriors. Was captain.||Lock: Sebastine Ikahihifo - Made his first-grade bow in 2012 and remains a member of the Warriors squad,|
|Interchanges: Sam Lousi - Back-rower or prop who played first-grade for the Warriors, one game in 2014. Siliva Havili - Hooker who has made six appearances in 2014, played for Tonga at 2013 RLWC.||Agnatius Paasi - Versatile forward who came the 191st Warrior when he made his debut against Brisbane in 2014. John Palavi - Lock who also made first-grade bow in 2014.|
"We're extremely lucky in rugby league to have the opportunity to travel the world playing the sport that we love, and the doors it's opened along the way has been fantastic."
After he left Warriors for a stint in France with Avignon in 2012, the 22-year-old returned to the southern hemisphere for a stint with Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles in the Queensland Cup, a feeder competition to the NRL top tier.
Two years north of the Tweed river ended when Meads agreed terms with Championship One Thunder, and there have been no regrets since.
"I was keen to take my football to the next step and Gateshead stood out with the future it has for itself and aspirations," he said.
"I'm here for a job and I want to go as far as I can in rugby league, but England's a fantastic place and I'm loving everything about it.
"Hopefully in the off-season I'll get to do a bit of travelling and see a bit more of the region."
The Warriors set-up has been a fertile breeding ground for talent, producing international stars such as Shaun Johnson, Hurrell and Kevin Locke, and also allowing players such as Sydney Roosters half-back James Maloney to develop.
"I was extremely blessed to be in the position I was a couple of years ago being in the Warriors system, being around the older blokes," Meads continued.
"It's a family club and everyone helps each other out, it wasn't out of the ordinary for me to go up to someone like Shaun Johnson and ask them for tips and they were more than accommodating.
"That was awesome and it gives me shivers up my spine to think about what we achieved in those few years."
What Meads and company did achieve was to become the best Under-20 side in the National Rugby League, in the same year the club's first-graders also made it all the way to the Grand Final.
While the seniors stumbled at the final hurdle against Manly, the junior Warriors overcame a flying North Queensland Cowboys start to snatch victory with the last kick of the game.
Meads proved the hero, his right boot unerringly sending the ball through the posts for an injury-time field goal.
"It goes down as one of the best 80 minutes of my life," he said.
"We smashed a few teams and everything was going good, and went ahead in the Grand Final but North Queensland Cowboys came back like they do.
"When it got to 80 minutes, it was full-time and I had a few tears in my eyes because I thought we'd already lost it, but I said to the guys - whatever happens, get us some field position and pass me the ball.
"Carlos Tuimavave made an 80-metre break, I yelled for it and it was over in about a second.
"I smile about it now but when the ball left my boot I could tell I hit it pretty sweet. I was in the right place at the right time. The rest is history."
Hopes of repeating his Warriors feats in England have been lifted by the takeover of Gateshead by cross-code neighbours Newcastle Falcons.
That in turn has prompted the arrival of signings such as Lee Mapals from Hunslet, and Stanley Gene's Thunder side are among the play-off contenders for promotion to the Championship.
The reintroduction of promotion and relegation to the league structure has given teams outside of Super League a hope of joining the top table, however long the journey may be.
"To see the improvements that are coming, especially being taken over by the Falcons, it seems everyone's pretty excited," Meads added.
"We're turning a corner now and going on to bigger and better things."