Emerging as an exciting talent for the future, Riley Norton has already caused a stir this year, and left an indelible mark on the South African schools’ sports’ scene. Now he has an opportunity to make history as he prepares for 2024.
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Born in Stellenbosch and schooled at Rhenish Primary before finding his way to the prestigious Paul Roos Gimnasium, following in the footsteps of his two older brothers, Norton has cricket and rugby in his DNA.
“We’re a big sports family, we love all South African sports. Cricket and rugby are the main two,” Riley explained.
His father, Chris Norton, a former Western Province rugby player, instilled a love of sport in the household and from a young age, Riley’s life revolved around playing.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been holding a cricket bat in the backyard and bowling at my brothers and friends or going to the field to play some rugby. Everything’s just always been about sports for me,” he shared with enthusiasm.
Over the years, and with the support of his family and his alma mater, this enthusiasm has blossomed into an exhilarating young talent that has already earned him a lot of positive attention from across the country.
He now stands a realistic chance of achieving something only 13 other South Africans have been able to achieve before him, that of earning South African Schools colours for both rugby and cricket. If he manages the feat, he would also be the first forward on the esteemed list.
Crucial to Riley’s journey has been the exceptional support system provided by his family. “I have awesome parents (Chris and Andi) and two brothers (Kei and Tim) who really look out for me, and they’re always the people I turn to first when things aren’t going right. I’m lucky to have them,” he said. “They’ve pushed me and helped me a lot through the last couple of years”.
The camaraderie extends to Paul Roos, where he describes the sporting culture as feeling like a second family.
“There’s so much support between the families, the coaches, and the guys at school, there’s always someone ready to help you, “said Norton, crediting Erhardt Muth and Corne Uys, his rugby coaches, and Deon Botes at the cricket programme, for their guidance. “Whenever I have something on my mind, they are always available, and they make it easy to come to them.”
The fact that he has attained such a high standard of performance at such a young age underlines the remarkable talent and work ethic Norton possesses.
Astonishingly, he began playing first-team cricket at Paul Roos in grade eight. Since 2022, he has captained the side.
Norton was named the u16 Player of the Year at the National Week in 2021, where he captained the Boland side. He has continued to hone his skills, and last year he made the SA Colts team after the Coca-Cola Khaya Majola Week. He was subsequently selected as a non-travelling reserve for the SA u19 tour of Bangladesh in July. At the beginning of 2023, he was also the second leading wicket-taker at the Cubs Week.
Acknowledging the CSA Talent Acceleration Programme‘s role in pushing him outside his comfort zone and enhancing his skills under the guidance of the country’s top mentors, he said: “All the TAP camps are great. It’s the best coaches in the country, who come together just to focus on us and help us develop, so you really do learn a lot there.”
While his foot has been firmly in the door of the national cricket side all year, and he has already been named in the 18-man provisional lineup for the 2024 u19 ICC Cricket World Cup in Sri Lanka, he has smashed through the wall into the SA Schools Rugby team with his outstanding performances for Western Province at the Craven Week in George this year.
Being far removed from the backyard battles where his love for sport was formed comes with a certain amount of pressure, but Norton said he chooses to be positive and to make the most of his chances.
“It’s such a privilege to be playing sports, so I actually enjoy all the challenges that come with it, because I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”
Reflecting on his cricket idols, he looks up to Kagiso Rabada for his passion and skill. “Ever since I first saw him play, I wanted to bowl like him,” Riley confessed. In rugby, he admires Pieter-Steph du Toit, highlighting the impact and work ethic of the World Cup-winning Springbok.
Off the field, Riley relaxes with activities like golf, where he can unwind with friends and family. “I’m not very good,” he laughed, “but it’s nice to go out with some mates or family and play. I also love being outdoors, so I enjoy anything like fishing or hunting, where I just get to chill in nature.
“I definitely want to play sports after school, but I haven’t decided yet between cricket or rugby. It all depends on the opportunities that arise, but I definitely want to keep playing sports,” Riley affirmed, leaving the door open for a future that holds boundless possibilities.
As he stands on the brink of a potentially historic year, one thing is certain: with numerous chapters left in his story, Riley Norton has already demonstrated tremendous potential, and the sky is truly the limit for this emerging South African sports phenom.