South Coast a fertile breeding ground for NRL

Shellharbour under-18 coach Mike Field (right) with Matthew Jurd, Emanuel Sultana and Blake Lawrie on one of the  grounds that has produced  a high number of representative rugby league players.  Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Shellharbour under-18 coach Mike Field (right) with Matthew Jurd, Emanuel Sultana and Blake Lawrie on one of the grounds that has produced a high number of representative rugby league players. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

RUGBY LEAGUE

Allan Carroll always thought Adam Docker could play because he could hit hard in defence.

He knew Trent Merrin was a handy player, too, but never thought he would be this good.

"It proves no matter where the kids are playing, if they're good enough someone is going to see them," the long-time junior rugby league coach said.

And if this weekend is any guide, maybe all those talent scouts should be narrowing their field a little bit in the search for rugby league's next superstar.

Prior to Merrin's withdrawal with a hand injury, four of Country Origin's squad for the clash against City hailed from a 23-kilometre stretch along the idyllic South Coast.

Docker and Merrin were both Shellharbour juniors destined for better things, while Mitch Rein (Kiama) and Tariq Sims (Gerringong) were also Group 7 prodigies.

Throw in Kiama's twins Brett and Josh Morris, who played in the Kangaroos' Test with New Zealand on Friday night, and Tariq's brothers Ashton and Korbin, Fiji's representatives in Saturday's Pacific Test, and it's a tremendous contingent.

Shellharbour's Euan Aitken is also a member of NSW's under-20s side for its State Of Origin clash against Queensland.

"These people that think playing in the Illawarra is the be all and end all ... this proves they would be wrong," Carroll said.

"I've coached for over 40 years in the Illawarra and Group 7 and obviously the main breeding ground is the Illawarra, but Group 7 are starting to produce some good ones."

Carroll points to Group 7 products like Matt Cooper, Luke Bailey, Shaun Timmins and Beau Ryan as high achievers from across the other side of the Illawarra-Group 7 border.

"It's an extraordinary achievement I think," South Coast rugby league general manager Jim McAuliffe said.

"It's just testimony to the work the clubs have done over the years down here. To have two in the Australian team and another seven or so spread through the Country teams and Fiji ... it's a wonderful achievement."

Even Group 7 historian John O'Dwyer has been forced to thumb through record books to find if this weekend will be some sort of milestone.

"I doubt there's been this many in one weekend," he said. "I think it would probably be a record."

But sometimes it's not always easy to know from a young age if they'll make it.

"I always liked Adam Docker as a good, young kid because of his defence. He just hits when he hits," Carroll said. "Trent Merrin was a good kid but, gee, he's gone from strength to strength because he puts a lot into it."

And their success has proved the region is putting a lot back into rugby league, too.

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