Illawarra rugby stars ready for national spotlight

Avondale's Eli Sinoti and University's Paul Tuala in NSW Country colours. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

Avondale's Eli Sinoti and University's Paul Tuala in NSW Country colours. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

NATIONAL RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP

Illawarra stars Eli Sinoti and Paul Tuala can't wait for this month's kick-off of the new National Rugby Championship.

Avondale winger Sinoti and University No 8 Tuala have both been playing for NSW Country for the past few years.

They are the only Illawarra players named in the NSW Country Eagles side for the NRC.

The Eagles play their first game against the Greater Sydney Rams on August 23 at Coogee Oval.

"I'm pretty excited. I was pretty lucky because it came out of nowhere," Sinoti said of his selection.

"I didn't really think I'd be in the mix because of the quality of the outside backs we had in the Country team. I thought they'd get a good shot at it before me, but I had a few good games which got noticed and, thankfully, I got in."

Tuala certainly hasn't popped up on the selection radar overnight. Last year he captured the NSW Country Player of the Year award.

"I'm over the moon to be selected, considering a lot of the guys are from Sydney," the 29-year-old said.

"It's good that we got recognised playing for Country without having to go to Sydney."

Featuring nine teams, the NRC will run for 11 weeks and has been created as a third tier competition along the lines of New Zealand's ITM Cup and South Africa's Currie Cup.

The tournament will conclude with the top four teams to contest a finals series.

NRC officials plan to expand the competition with more teams in future seasons.

Tuala and Sinoti hope to play well enough to catch the eye of Super Rugby scouts.

"I'm just taking everything as it comes," Tuala said.

"I had a few opportunities earlier on in my amateur career and turned those down for other things. Now that this has come up, I'm just taking it as it goes and see how far it can get me."

Tuala and Sinoti have known each other since they were youngsters overseas.

"Me and Eli go way back to when we lived in New Zealand. I played all my rugby with his older brother," Tuala said.

Sinoti has embraced the responsibilities that come with professional sport.

"It's awesome being able to do it full-time," the 24-year-old said.

"Just seeing guys work hard at the gym and how they do it full-time, it's quite an eye-opener. It just shows you how much more you can do with your skills, and how you get bigger, stronger and faster.

"It'll be good to see how I go. I want to grab the opportunity with both hands. It's exciting times for both me and Paulie. Paulie's been in the system for a long time over here so it's a good shot for him."

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