Shellharbour teen Jake Charlston is excited for his next chapter in football after being snapped up NPL Victoria powerhouse South Melbourne FC.
The promising goalkeeper has enjoyed developing his craft in the Illawarra Premier League with Wollongong United over the past few seasons, but says "it was something I had to take" when he was offered a deal by one of Victoria's biggest clubs.
South Melbourne finished second on the first-grade lad in 2023, before falling 4-0 in the grand final to Avondale. However, the club has won numerous NPL Victoria championships over the past six decades and were also four-time National Soccer League champions.
Charlston is set to play in the under-23s grade and will be South Melbourne's third choice gloveman in 2024.
"It's basically a chance for me to make a name for myself," the 19-year-old told the Mercury.
"It's one of the biggest clubs essentially outside the A-League, so it will be a really good stepping stone for me. Hopefully things will work out but if they don't, hopefully people will recognise that I've played for South Melbourne."
The contract continues an impressive year for Charlston, who broke through for his first-grade Premier League debut during United's campaign.
The former Wollongong Wolves junior had gained experience with United's second and youth-grade teams, before he was given his shot by then-head coach Billy Tsovolos.
"Anything can happen in a season. I was our second-choice goalkeeper at United and then became first-choice halfway through the season," Charlston said.
"United has been nothing but great for me. I was playing in Sydney before I came here, and with the Wolves previously, but Billy has been the best coach for me. He's so good with young players and I couldn't have asked for a better mentor - same with Steve Jovanovski.
"Breaking into the firsts team was the highlight of my time here. When I signed, it was always a goal of mine to break into the firsts team. They had told me about (former goalkeeper) Sammy Nastic, he'd also been there since he was young.
"They told me that I could do the same thing and 'we're not going to hold you back from playing first grade, but you've got to work earn it'.
"I worked really hard, so I'm really happy that Billy gave me those opportunities."
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