French puts Tingha 'back on the map' says Blacklock
Young footballers from the small NSW town of Tingha used to aspire to be the next Nathan Blacklock, Preston Campbell and Owen Craigie.
Now Parramatta Eels try-scoring whiz Bevan French is their inspiration and Blacklock, his relative, said the example the 22-year-old winger is setting for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youngsters alike could not be underestimated.
Tingha is well known for producing Indigenous rugby league players of substance.
Blacklock, Campbell and Craigie are the most decorated and French, who played under-18s and some A-grade with the Tingha Tigers, is following in their footsteps.
Blacklock scored 121 tries in 142 games for the Sydney Roosters, St George and St George Illawarra Dragons after fine-tuning his razzle-dazzle skills and backflips in the backyard in Tingha with Campbell as a youth.
French has scored 30 tries in 35 Telstra Premiership appearances leading into Friday's Indigenous Round clash with the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium.
"I want Bevan to break my try-scoring record, and he already has an amazing strike rate so I believe he will," Blacklock told NRL.com.
"He has the ability to represent NSW, his country and be up there with the best, but the key to Bevan is his attitude off the field.
"He is such a humble young man who has never let anything go to his head, and that you can’t teach.
"When he first got his NRL opportunity I let him know that not only was he representing Parramatta but also all those kids out there who are chasing the same dream he was."
Blacklock said he wished he’d played alongside French at Tingha, but did enjoy watching him in the Inverell Minor League and for the Tingha under-18s.
"He was never a selfish footballer, but he could do everything. If he had to score a 70-metre try to win the game for his team he would. Some footballers are ball runners and some are ball players. He’s both.
"It’s not something I usually do, but I got on to (former recruitment manager) Craig Wilson at Parramatta and told him about Bevan, just because he was special and there was no one like him."
French garnered the attention of six NRL clubs but ended up signing with the Eels.
"I warned him about how it is the challenges off the field that are the biggest. It will be the nightlife and the people coming into his life now that he is famous and wanting to party at nightclubs that he has to watch out for," Blacklock said.
"Because he has played NRL and is a success, the other challenge is dealing with the negative energy of people out there who he thought were his friends. I still deal with that today, and I'm long retired.
"What I love about him is that he has a lot of positive energy and still comes back home to Tingha and the surrounding area and gives his time to the local community."
James Sheather has had numerous roles with the Tingha Tigers as a player, coach and club president and said French was "one of a kind".
"We gave him a couple of games in A grade for Tingha without his mother knowing when he was 17 and he carved them up,'' he said.
"When his mum found out he wasn't allowed to play A grade that year because she didn’t want him to get hurt…but I don’t think anybody would have caught him.
"Kids used to run around and say they wanted to be the next Preston Campbell and Nathan Blacklock. Now they bounce around and say 'I'm Bevan French'. He's put Tingha back on the map."