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Aaron Harlow-Stephenson makes England Universities Rugby League team

Team Sunderland Elite Athlete Aaron Harlow-Stephenson’s impressive few months has continued with selection for the England Universities Rugby League squad.

After a lengthy process stretching back to last year, Harlow-Stephenson impressed enough to make the final 26-man squad that will compete for England in this summer’s Four Nations, and in the President’s Cup in two weeks.

Coming through the North East team and being successful in making a place in the squad for the North v South Origins game, which the South won, the paramedic science went one step further in making the final cut; but didn’t leave the pitch knowing if that would be the case.

Aaron Harlow-Stephenson has been named in the 2024 England Universities Rugby League squad.

“I think you always feel that you could have done better on the day, especially when you get beat,” said Harlow-Stephenson. “I was a bit nervous at first to be honest, I remember going over to my dad after and asking him: ‘How did I do?’, he said: ‘You played well son’, and when your dad says that you wonder: ‘What have I done?’ but apparently I’ve done well, and I’ve been selected.”

The final squad saw three props from the South make the cut, two of which Harlow-Stephenson already knew; and one that he has became familiar with since the Origins game.

“There’s a bit of a story between me and one of the props on the South that played. There’s two that I really get along with: Delaine Edward-Gittens who I played with for the Midland Hurricanes, a really nice guy and a great athlete as well, and Femi Sanya who played in the NRL for West Tigers – so a really, really good standard of competition.

“There was another lad called Fin (Hay), me and him had a bit of afters on the pitch. I think there was a bit of hair pulling on my part against him – and there’s a great photo out there of me pulling his hair a bit in the ruck, and him having a go at me after.

“Little did I know, in camp the next week he got selected as well and we were sharing a room! He’s a really nice lad, there’s never any animosity in rugby league for me. Whatever happens on the pitch, stays on the pitch at the end of the day.”

England North and South after the 2024 Origins game. Credit: EnglandUnisRL (X)

Another familiar face for Harlow-Stephenson in the England Universities squad is Northumbria University student Tyler Hepple, whom he has known for a number of years.

“It’s nice having those players that you’ve played with for a long time, Hepple I played with at Gateshead Storm for years. A hard player, a strong ball carrier and a good mate of mine. Having people like that makes you a bit more comfortable in a big team full of people that you don’t really know.”

Hepple is a club teammate of Harlow-Stephenson, with both of their attention no doubt remaining focused on the North East’s lone professional rugby league side, Newcastle Thunder, who make their inaugural game under their new owners on Sunday, March 17.

“Ambition-wise, we’ve got to turn up each day and put in a performance for all the fans that have got the squad back,” said Harlow-Stephenson. “There was a time a few months ago where Newcastle Thunder wasn’t going to be a thing in rugby league.

“This season, if we come out consistently every week and we do well I think that will be enough to keep everyone happy and to keep the squad happy – we just want what’s best for the region. We want to do what we can.”