NextGen: The Salford Red Devils prospect with the unconventional route to Super League

Drew Darbyshire
Nathan Connell Salford Red Devils Alamy

Nathan Connell (right) in action on his Salford Red Devils debut

Salford Red Devils have rewarded homegrown talent Nathan Connell with his first professional contract for the 2025 season.

Red Devils coach Paul Rowley had the pleasure of handing out a Super League debut to the academy product in a win over London Broncos in June.

And Connell’s story is quite remarkable. It’s one of perseverance, never giving up on your dreams and believing in yourself.

The 21-year-old has had an unconventional route to Super League, having never been in a scholarship system. He has come through Salford’s development academy in recent years whilst working in the club’s foundation.

And it was only until earlier on this season that he’d never been in a full-time environment before. But last month, his childhood dream came true: making his Super League debut.

The fullback, who can also play wing, came off the bench for the last 20 minutes of Salford’s 34-4 win over London on home soil, showing some nice touches with the ball in hand.

“He’s come through the education academy which is really good and then obviously the reserves,” Rowley told Love Rugby League.

“It’s a pathway in which I don’t think there’s a lot of success stories in and around that. Luis Roberts at Leeds is another who has come through that pathway as well so I think they are few and far between who have taken that route.

“It’s the route basically for the kids that didn’t get picked (for elite academies) so it’s a testament to his resilience and never giving up, so he’s a good role model really and we were really excited to give him his debut which he’s earned.

“I thought he came on, he wanted a carry straight away and he got stuck in straight away so I’m delighted for him.

“I probably wish I could have given him a little bit longer really but in such a tight affair for a long period of time, I didn’t want to put him under that pressure albeit he got a healthy 20-minute stint there in such an important position, so there was no lack of trust on our part and I thought he was very good when he came on.”

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Salford Red Devils’ hope for more homegrown talent like Nathan Connell with Elite Academy Licence

Connell played his junior rugby for Wigan-based community club Shevington Sharks before linking up with the Red Devils and has won international honours for Ireland at Under-19s level.

And with Salford having secured an Elite Academy Licence from 2025, Rowley hopes the club will be able to reward more homegrown talent with their Super League debuts over the next decade.

“It will take a while to get a system implemented that we feel works for the club and some cycles of players coming through and then out of the other side, that’s years not months,” Rowley acknowledged. “But there’s got to be a starting point and this is good obviously.

“I think every club should have the right to try and run and facilitate a pathway for some of the people in the city of Salford to aim for.

“As a sport, if you want to provide role models then you’ve got to give aspiration as well so that’s great for us.”

Player profile

Name: Nathan Connell

Date of birth: 05/01/2003

Position: Fullback/winger

Senior debut: London Broncos (H), 02/06/2024

Honours: Ireland Under-19s and Ireland A

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