Some future stars and wily established veterans highlighted Greater Illawarra's impressive Country Championships campaign in Tamworth.
Greater Illawarra's representative cricket side excelled to win the northern pool of the T20 competition to secure their spot in the Plan B Country Bash final.
A highlight of the T20 portion of the Country Championships for Greater Illawarra was beating fierce rivals Newcastle.
Unfortunately for the Grant Tilling-coached outfit they couldn't beat Newcastle in their one-day fixture.
Though pleasingly for the Greater Illawarra players and their coaching staff, it was their only loss, with Greater Illawarra winning four of their five games played at the carnival.
"It was a very good tournament for us. We won four out of five games and we made the final of the regional Big Bash at Spotless Stadium on the 17th of January, which is outstanding," Tilling said.
"At the end of the day, I think we picked the right lads, guys that were in form and scoring centuries and taking wickets, and it was shown by their performances and the team's performances as well."
Young guns Bailey Abela, Ethan Debono, Cooper Maddinson and Jack McDonald were all picked on the back of impressive lead-up form which included scoring centuries for club and rep teams.
They all took this good form into the country championships where they contributed with bat and ball.
Debono was the leading run-scorer of the country championships, hitting 220 runs at an average of 73.33.
The Wollongong left-hand batsman's top score at the carnival was the punishing 150 he hit in Greater Illawarra's win over North Coastal.
Abela was also a model of consistency throughout to finish third in the run-scoring category, compiling 194 runs at an average of 64.67, with a top-score of 97.
Maddinson finished ninth with 104 runs at an average of 104, with a top-score of 74 not out.
Shellharbour City all-rounder Jack McDonald also had a great carnival with bat and ball, with his 60 runs coming at an average of 60 and a highest score of 45 not out.
McDonald also took two crucial wickets in Greater Illawarra's T20 win over Newcastle.
Greater Illawarra were also well served by their experienced co-captain Justin Weller, who was the carnival's leading wicket-taker with nine dismissals at an average of just 17.33.
The contributions across the team pleased Tilling no end.
"The fact that we had so many good young players step up as well as our experienced players when needed, was perhaps the best thing to come out of the carnival," he said.
"Because we've also had such a good carnival I think that will also create more interst in the game and in the team.
"Look Newcastle's always tough to beat. We were fortunate enough to beat them in the T20 game but we just weren't good enough in the 50-over match.
"But we're not far away from knocking these guys off as far as I'm concerned.
"My view is that I'd like to keep this bunch of guys together now for a number of years, which is going to form the basis of, I think a very competitive young side going forward at the end of the day."
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