How young Joel Thompson became respected Sea Eagle

Joel Thompson fondly recalls the days as a young country kid rushing home to pull on his much loved Manly jersey to watch the Sea Eagles play on television.

A huge fan of Cliff Lyons, Joel would be watching every play of the champion five-eighth and cheering on every Manly try with great enthusiasm.

And right alongside him in the small NSW country town of Ivanhoe would be his Nan, Gloria, who introduced Joel to her beloved Manly Sea Eagles.

It is one of the reasons why Gloria is putting herself through more than 10 hours on a train from her home to watch Joel play his 200th NRL game this Saturday night for Manly.

To be there to watch her loving grandson wear her favourite team colours at the Sea Eagles’ home ground of Lottoland against reigning premiers, the Sydney Roosters.

I spent a bit of time growing up with my Nan. She is a mad Manly supporter and my Pop was a Roosters supporter, which is kind of ironic for this game.

- Joel Thompson

“A lot of my uncles and family are also Sea Eagles supporters so I jumped on that wagon and supported Manly.

“We often sat there in front of the television on a Friday night or on a Sunday afternoon watching Manly play. I fell in love with the game back then.

“There is a family photo somewhere of me wearing my Manly jersey and my brother wearing his Newcastle jersey.

"Cliffy Lyons was an absolute freak. I used to love watching him play. Coming from Narrandera, what he achieved in rugby league was awesome and he inspired so many people from the bush. He is just a champion bloke to go along with it.”

As for his 200th game, there are more than 50 family and friends of Thompson’s attending the match.

Thirty-year-old Thompson made his NRL debut back in 2008 for Canberra and has forged a reputation as a fine representative back-rower. In his first season with Manly last year, Thompson took out the NRL team's Players' Player award.

"Nan is making the big trip on the Indian Pacific. God love her,’’ Thompson smiled.

“To have my wife and kids there and my closest friends and family means a lot to me. It is just as much as a milestone for them as it is for me. They have helped me get to where I am."

Off the field, Thompson has also gained plenty of respect for his wonderful work in the community, including winning the prestigious Ken Stephen Medal in 2016. He is an NRL State of Mind ambassador.

 “I am very lucky with what rugby league has given me. I’ve met some of my greatest mates through the game and have been given an opportunity to live out a dream,'' Thompson added.

“It has been truly awesome. I'm just looking forward to getting out there for game 200.”