After spending the season battling against each other, the Illawarra's top junior rugby league players are preparing to put club allegiances aside to represent their region at this weekend's Country Championships.
The Illawarra under 14 and under 15 teams will head to Wagga Wagga for this weekend's Southern Championships, with the goal of progressing to next week's State Finals in Wyong.
With squads selected at the start of the season, the teams have been training together on a regular basis and under 15s coach Peter Hooper said the boys have formed a close bond ahead of the competition.
"We're really looking forward to it," Hooper said. "The boys have put in a couple of months of hard training, so they should be right to go this weekend.
"We played in a gala day against the Bulldogs, Cronulla and Penrith and had some good results. It was pretty difficult to pick our final 20-man squad, there was a lot of talent and it just came down to getting the balance of the team right."
With Illawarra producing so many fine rugby league players in previous years and the region's Tarsha Gale and SG Ball sides securing grand final victories earlier this season, expectations are high for the boys this weekend.
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Having watched the effort the boys put in at training, Hooper is confident the side will meet their lofty expectations this weekend.
"Coming from a strong area, it's a privilege to play for Illawarra and they should go away with high expectations on themselves to perform at the representative level.
"We've assembled a squad that's highly talented, they're a pretty driven bunch of kids. There hasn't been any whip cracking, they go about their business professionally at such a young age."
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