He’s barely sixteen and already being noticed as a leading light in the world of representative football.
Ulysses Roberts is winning hearts and minds across the state with his athleticism, and charming yet unassuming nature.
And to add another feather in his cap, on September 11 he will head to Sydney for NRL’s night of nights to be presented with this year’s KARI Indigenous Achievement Award.
Ulysses will rub shoulders with rugby greats and take the stage at The Star to receive his award alongside the winner of the 2017 State Of Origin’s Brad Fittler medal.
Indigenous Projects officer, long-time NSWRL staffer, and mentor Steve Hall said that the award was ‘a pretty big deal’.
“I was pretty shocked, you know. It means a lot to me. My family are all very proud,” Ulysses said.
Six selectors and the NSW U16s coach from the Indigenous Interstate Challenge selected a winner after considering football prowess and attitude towards training throughout the competition.
Mr Hall said that this year the judges were unanimous in their choice.
The mighty lock was awarded best player in the interstate match held between the NSW Kooris and QLD Murris and was mentioned as best on field in the match against the Pirates in Perth.
That combined with his consistent sportsmanship and geniality contributed to him being preferred for the honour.
“Ulysses is one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet,” Mr Hall said.
“The way he runs a footy—he’s so fast and talented.
“It’s really special for a kid from the bush to win it. He’s up against kids from the rep teams from Sydney.
“And his mum should get an award too for the best mum of the year.”
When asked how he deals with the pressures of his mounting success combined with the trials and tribulations of being a teenager, he shrugs as he nonchalantly replies that he ‘just goes with it’.
“My family helps me a lot to fit school in with footy,” Ulysses said.
For now the sixteen-year-old is keen to focus his attentions on graduating from high school.
“My goal for the next two years is mostly to finish school. But if I get a call from the Eels then I might have to go down there to finish school,” Ulysses said.
To cap off a huge year for the Macksville High student, Ulysses has already been snapped up by the Parramatta Eels and inducted into their professional development program.
“If I do make a career out of it, out of something I love, that’ll be good. It’s better than being in an office that’s for sure,” Ulysses said.
With an overwhelming football pedigree (his relatives include Greg Ingliss, Preston Campbell, Owen Craigie and Cliffy Lyons) and an impressive stature, it always seemed likely that Ulysses Roberts would be destined for greatness.
But despite coming from rugby royalty, Ulysses says that he was never pressured to play.
“It was always my choice,” Ulysses said.
“I love it because I stay fit and I always meet a lot of new friends. I've got heaps of new mates that I met on the rep team.”
He will go head to head against one of those mates on Saturday in the Group 2 Under 16’s grand final.
Ulysses and his Bowra Tigers teammates will face off against Nambucca’s Reagan Harris who plays for Sawtell.
Both boys have just come back from a New Zealand tour with the CRL U16s, where Ulysses took out player of the tournament.
When asked which league legend he’d love to come up against he grins as he nominates his uncle.
“I’d probably like to play against Greg Ingliss—see how hard he runs,” Ulysses said.
“But Thurston’s mad too, he works the hardest. Yeah, he’s the most die-hard player.”
If he could choose a dream team to flank him into battle his top picks would be Thurston and Ingliss alongside Billy Slater, Newcastle’s Dan Gagai and the Storm’s Josh Addo-Carr.
If 2018 follows along the same trajectory as his 2017 season, then Ulysses might soon get his chance to play alongside his heroes.
According to Steve Hall, there have been 36 young players signed up to the national league from the Indigenous representative competition since it was initiated in 2010.
“So he joins a pretty elite group of kids,” Mr Hall said.