ILLAWARRA can create a piece of NSW rugby league history if they can pull off a stunning double at next week’s junior finals.
After taking out the southern division titles in the under 14 and 15, the two squads head to Cessnock, have never held both trophies at the same time.
Illawarra’s under 15 team qualified through to play Maitland on July 1, after beating Group Seven 14-4 in the final at Collegians Sports Complex on Sunday.
The win came after a thrilling 22-all draw with junior powerhouse the Victorian Academy, which has dominated the titles in recent times.
In a nervy final two minutes, Victorian centre Xaviour Taufa nailed a sideline conversion to level the scores, but Illawarra survived on the basis of a first-try countback.
The under 14s had few troubles in claiming southern division success, beating Victoria (26-4) and then Group Seven (28-0) in the final.
They now play Newcastle in the under 14 state final, also at Cessnock.
With several players of the Illawarrs squad destined for the Steelers’ Harold Matthews Cup squad next year, under 15 coach Nathan Chinnock said the team is motivated to create history.
“It’s a big opportunity for us, for sure,” he said.
“We were told after the game on Sunday that both divisions had never won through and then won the final, it would be great to do it now. The under 15s haven’t won it since 2005, so it’s been a long time for Illawarra.
“I’m really proud of the guys, especially the way they played against the big Victorian forward pack, they had to adjust our game plan and they did it well.”
Their success came without star five-eighth Junior Amone, who was called into camp with the NSW CHS squad and missed last weekend’s games.
Jhet Steyger stepped into Amone’s role and was one of the carnival standouts, while fullback Tyrone Roberts scored a double as Illawarra came from 4-nil down at half-time in the southern final.
Group Seven coach Jayson Smith said the boys struggled to regain momentum, after concern about an injury to their star playmaker Corey Herdegen.
“We went into the final against Illawarra full of confidence after a strong display against Group 11 on the Saturday,” Smith said.
“As it was a neck injury, we had to wait for the ambulance to arrive, meaning the game was forced onto the other ground.
“It resumed 30 minutes later – which proved to be a little difficult to get the boys to refocus because they were worried about Corey.”
In the under 14 decider, Group Seven went to half-time only trailing by six, but Illawarra overpowered them in the second stanza.
Wingers Joshua Manovski and Jayden Davis, hooker William Cooke, reserve Julian Lee, centre James Fletcher and lock Brandon Morkos were all on the scoresheet.
- NSW COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Saturday, July 1 at Cessnock
Under 15: ILLAWARRA v MAITLAND (2.25pm)
Under 14: ILLAWARRA v NEWCASTLE (1.20pm)