Newcastle Rugby League: Cessnock youngster Harvey Neville scores unexpected win after flying home from England amid gap year

Harvey Neville played rugby union at high school, had been in the UK for a gap year when COVID-19 struck and was barely even born when Cessnock last won a Newcastle Rugby League premiership in 2003.

But somehow the planets aligned for him this season.

Back in the country, back playing rugby league and aged just 18, the youngest member of the Goannas' squad helped the Coalfields club claim a drought-breaking grand final win on Sunday by defeating Souths 20-6 at Maitland Sportsground.

"I'm pretty glad I'm here," Neville said.

"It's probably the best time of my life. It's unbelievable."

Last year Neville finished his secondary studies at Hunter Valley Grammar School, where he had lined up at NSW All Schools rugby union carnivals after previously playing juniors at the Pokolbin Reds.

He then opted to head overseas, working as a teacher's assistant and boarding master in the south-west of England and eyeing off a few games of rugby union at nearby Dursley.

Three months into a two-year travel visa, with intentions of trekking around Europe with mates on holidays, the global coronavirus pandemic took hold and Neville returned to Australia during March.

"I would have been stuck there," he said.

Upon his arrival home and realising he wasn't going anywhere else in a hurry, Neville started a three-year landscape apprenticeship in the Vineyards region and while another trip may evenuate down the track he is now committed to that employment.

Enter the black and gold uniform and a rugby league comeback for 2020.

Having played reserve grade last season, being able to rejoin fellow Goannas juniors such as Harrison Spruce and Joe Barber and living within eyeshot of the club's Vincent Street headquarters Cessnock Sportsground, Neville signed up.

"I've loved it," he said.

"It was a challenge going from under 19s to first grade but it's definitely improved my footy. I'm a lot more confident and comfortable playing now."

The competition almost didn't go ahead but after a delayed start, club changes and the banning of player payments there were 11 rounds completed in the regular season between July 18 and October 3.

Cessnock finished second on the ladder and went on to beat Wests 38-14 in a knockout semi-final showdown despite trailing 8-0 at half-time. The Goannas then clinched the trophy with a 14-point victory over the Lions in this year's decider, much to the delight of supporters in the stands.

Neville, who turns 19 in December, said he would "definitely" go around again for Cessnock next season.

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