WE are now just 12 sleeps from our sixth Academy Tour of Australia in 11 years, writes Player Performance Manager Neil Kilshaw. Looking back at the pictures, the brochures, the games and the player names it really hits home at what the club has done for these young men, and importantly what everyone has gotten out of the trips.We have an abundance of stats and anecdotes’ to churn out over the next two weeks as we start the official countdown – but for now I’d like to say a little about how we started out and the journey we’ve been on.Whilst many of the tours merge into one large memory, what stands alone is the night we made the decision to go for it.Sometime in December 2002, Mike Rush, Derek Traynor, Paul Molyneux and myself all agreed that Mike’s daft idea should go ahead and that we were all committed to the fundraising and planning.As a 15-year-old I went on a North West Counties tour in 1993 and thought I had an idea about fundraising due to my own bucket collections and raffle ticket selling… how little did I actually know!So I declared myself the treasurer and the following morning booked three of us an appointment at the bank. I remember the look on Mully’s face when I gave my passport in and he found out my name was actually David!We quickly announced a dozen players and our first fundraiser was a weekend of bag packs at Safeway’s supermarket in the town centre. Supervising Scott Holland was a job in itself as he wore a suit of carrier bags and proceeded to drop a load of crusty baguettes on the floor.Then we had Paul Clough, whose first interest in hoarding money was revealed as he spent most of his shifts collecting all the buckets so he could collate and chat up the young check out girl by asking her to change the £1’s into notes. Just five years later that same Paul Clough was collecting a winner’s medal at Wembley!Amazingly, we got to our total by the summer of 2004 and 21 players and seven staff set off on what now proves to be a defining moment in the development of the Club’s junior pathway. We’ve effectively been fundraising ever since and have had some very sticky moments. The global financial meltdown in 2009 hit us really hard as the exchange rate plummeted to 1.4 dollars to the pound – it had been 2.4 in 2004.It’d be fair to say Mike had some sleepless nights that year as the target seemingly kept moving further away no matter how much we raised, and I can honestly say that the 2009 squad have packed more shopping than I ever will!Throughout the 13 years the biggest factor to the Tour’s success have undoubtedly been the staff. We have an amazing level of continuity with performance coaches and volunteers and it’s with great pride that the initial seven (Mike Rush, Neil Kilshaw, Gordon Pennington, Eric Chisnall, Eric Frodsham, Derek Traynor and Paul Molyneux) all remain involved at the club now, and six of those will be members of the 2015 touring party.In fundraising for so many tours the support of the local community has been a constant and without that backing we wouldn’t have made that first trip let alone six. We have developed a lasting legacy within British Rugby League and the professional leagues are littered with former tourists – staff as well as players.The club’s reputation as a leading force in the development of players is enhanced with every tour, and this has been recognised with our “outstanding” grading in the RFL’s annual accreditation for every year it has been held.In the last few weeks we have really intensified our on-field preparations as we know that the Australians lie in wait. The 2015 squad of 25 Saints are both excited and anxious about the challenges ahead of them, but we know from experience that they will change from “boys to men” before our very eyes.But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, firstly we have 22hrs of flying to negotiate…Mike Rush, Neil Kilshaw and Derek Traynor at Singapore Airport in 2004.The original seven staff!Paul Clough.