Waikato teenagers spending a month training with Spanish club

Two Waikato teenagers are spending a month training with professional Spanish club CF Rayo Majadahonda.

Hamilton Wanderers defender Dylan Gardiner (17) and Cambridge midfielder Luke Brooke-Smith (15) will train at the Madrid club who play in the Primera Federación, returning to New Zealand in mid-February 2024.

Main photo: Luke Brooke-Smith (left) and Dylan Gardiner.

The club operate a High-Performance PRO Centre to help young players integrate into a professional football programme, providing access to all the resources necessary to become an elite player.

The opportunity was arranged by the RH3 Football Academy, which has helped develop both players since their junior playing days.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for Dylan and Luke,” RH3 founder Ricki Herbert said.

“They’ll be able to immerse themselves into a professional football environment and learn how to deal with off-the-pitch challenges such as language and cultural issues.

“It’s valuable experience for anyone contemplating a professional career because so many opportunities these days are abroad.”

Both players have already benefitted from overseas experience.

New Zealand’s Dylan Gardiner (left) and New Caledonia’s David Cahma at the 2023 OFC U-17 Championship. Photo: Kirk Corrie / Phototek.

Taupo-based Gardiner, a central defender, captained the New Zealand U-17 team at the 2023 FIFA Men’s U-17 World Cup in Indonesia. He also went to the OFC U-17 Championship tournament in Fiji with the national squad, helping win the title.

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Midfielder Brooke-Smith spent a week of his December 2023 school holidays training at men’s A-League club Melbourne City, arranged through RH3.

Both players have developed their skills with the RH3 Football Academy, and made a successful transition into senior football with Waikato clubs.

Gardiner has played for Northern League club Hamilton Wanderers, while Brooke-Smith has become a regular choice for Lotto NRFL Southern Conference runners-up Cambridge.

“None of their success has happened by accident,” Herbert says. “They are extremely dedicated and have worked hard to reach the stage where they can look ahead and see opportunities.

“Our role as an academy is to help open the doors to those opportunities, and to support them.”

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