Like all 17-year-olds, Bellingen’s Rowan Juodvalkis isn’t the finished product – but there’s enough talent, class and determination evident to make him one of the shining lights coming through the ranks.
Rowan has been playing the beautiful game since the Under 5s, but it wasn’t until mid-teens that he decided to take the sport seriously.
“I was just 15 when I starting playing ‘up’ for seniors, as well as juniors. So I set myself a goal to make NPL and I achieved that the following year,” Rowan said.
He didn’t just make the North Coast NPL 16s side – he crashed the door down, part of a superior side who went all-but, making the grand final against the Emerging Jets. And he captained the Bello Bats 17s last season too – while also playing seniors.
Rowan admitted he had mixed thoughts about returning to club football – but the strong relationships he had forged at Bellingen meant he was happy to stay put.
And that was the same last season, despite the lure of joining a Coastal Premier League outfit.
The Bats and their fanatical, animated supporters, couldn’t have been happier to keep Rowan as they charged through 2020.
“We won the comp by a long way, but unfortunately got beaten in the grand final (by Woolgoolga 4-2 in the men’s 2nd Division South),” Rowan said.
“But I scored one goal and had an assist (in the decider). It was one of my favourite seasons,” said the winger/midfielder who prefers to play wider at this stage of his career.
Rowan said the move from junior to senior football had been illuminating.
“Every step gave me new insights. In juniors you have a good time but you never have a full understanding of the game,” he said.
“The NPL refined all of my skills and helped me to become tactically aware.
“And returning to my club I’ve found if anything I’ve improved more (in seniors) … just the physicality of it and understanding the team mentality and how to use my body properly.”
Make no mistake, the Year 12 Bellingen High product will be one to watch in 2021.