Kurri Kurri's Jacob Barrett off to Ireland for four-month stint with Leinster Rugby Academy high-performance development program

DREAM OPPORTUNITY: Kurri Kurri's Jacob Barrett will spend four months with the Leinster Rugby Academy in Ireland. Picture: Michael Barrett
DREAM OPPORTUNITY: Kurri Kurri's Jacob Barrett will spend four months with the Leinster Rugby Academy in Ireland. Picture: Michael Barrett

Growing up in the rugby league heartland of Kurri Kurri, Jacob Barrett made the switch to rugby union in his early teens and has never looked back.

The 21-year-old tighthead prop has played in Sydney's premier rugby competition, the Shute Shield, for the past three seasons, and will head off to Ireland this Saturday for a four-month stint with the prestigious Leinster Rugby Academy.

After he finished school at St Mary's Maitland in 2018, Barrett played Colts with Gordon, before joining Warringah then moving onto Northern Suburbs, where he played his first grade this year.

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With an Irish grandfather and a Tongan-born father, Barrett is eligible to represent Australia, Ireland and Tonga.

Through his manager, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) kept a close eye on Barrett's progress at Northern Suburbs this year, and will sponsor his placement at Leinster's high-performance development program.

Barrett said he is "stoked" with the opportunity - particularly following Ireland's stunning victory over New Zealand earlier this month.

"I couldn't believe it. It's not bad for a kid from Kurri - things like this usually only happen for kids from the city," he said.

"And the way Ireland have been playing, it's a great time to be a part of it.

"They are the top club in Ireland, and Ireland have just beaten the All Blacks."

Leinster is regarded as the most successful of Ireland's four professional provincial rugby teams.

The Irish team which defeated the All Blacks 29-20 in Dublin the weekend before last boasted 13 players from Leinster in its squad.

Barrett's selection in the academy program comes after the Shute Shield was abandoned mid-August due to the NSW lockdown, with Norths finishing in second place.

He said he had been thinking about playing in Europe for some time, and it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Barrett said the opportunity wouldn't have come about without the help of his manager.

"I'm extremely lucky - something like this doesn't happen every day. I'm so grateful," he said.

Barrett played rugby league with the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs and Cessnock Goannas as a child, before switching to union in his early high school days at St Philip's Christian College Cessnock.

He played with the Maitland Blacks and the Hamilton Hawks (captaining the under-17s in their 2017 grand final win), and making the Hunter Wildfires, NSW Country and NSW Combined Catholic Colleges sides.