Andrew Johns Cup: ‘Embrace it’: talented Rams set to enjoy country championship battle

ENJOYING IT: Rams centre Mason Pollack is swamped by team-mates Tyler Colley, Cooper Monk and Rylee Blackhall (obscured) during Western's semi-final victory. Photo: NICK McGRATH
ENJOYING IT: Rams centre Mason Pollack is swamped by team-mates Tyler Colley, Cooper Monk and Rylee Blackhall (obscured) during Western's semi-final victory. Photo: NICK McGRATH

AS a quartet of Bathurst’s most talented under 16 rugby league players prepare themselves for a shot at Andrew Johns Cup glory this Saturday, they are being urged to enjoy the moment.

St Pat’s trio Tyler Colley, Blake Martin and Jayden Fisher, plus Bathurst Panthers’ Noah Griffith will all take to the field at Glen Willow, Mudgee as part of the Western Division outfit.

They are an outfit which is favoured to win the crown, but rather than feeling the pressure of doing just that, their coach Kurt Hancock is urging them to embrace that tag and appreciate the opportunity to play in such a big game.

Western has raced through the under 16s country championship to date, recording an undefeated southern pool campaign before qualifying for the decider courtesy of a 40-16 semi-final win over Northern Rivers, although the Rams’ start to the sudden death clash was a tad shaky.

Still, the Rams will head into the Saturdays’s grand final as undeniable favourites having already beaten their opponents, the Illawarra South Coast Dragons, during the group stage of the championship.

It’s a fact not lost on Hancock, not in the slightest.

So, instead of being frightened of crumbling under the pressure, the championship-winning mentor is recommending his side lap it up and trust they’ve done enough hard work to have earned such a tag.

“I’ve rung all the boys and I’ve been a touch nervous, but we have been the most consistent side in either pool and we have to embrace it to mentally gear us up and play well on the weekend,” he said.

“It’ll come down to whichever side handles the day better. The team that loses often creates a bit of doubt and fear in the lead-up, that’s all part of the imagination. 

“And at this age, what kid doesn’t dream of scoring the winning try in a grand final?

“But if we make sure we believe in the hard work we’ve put in and believe in each other, we’ll go out and have some fun, enjoy the day and enjoy the moment.”

ON TRACK: A watchful Kurt Hancock during his side's 40-16 win in the semi-final. Photo: NICK McGRATH

ON TRACK: A watchful Kurt Hancock during his side's 40-16 win in the semi-final. Photo: NICK McGRATH

Griffith, who is contracted with Melbourne Storm, will line up at halfback, Martin in the second row and Colley as the Rams’ fullback. Fisher is set to be injected into the match from the bench.

Hancock says starting Saturday’s decider will be key.

Especially in the wake of last week’s uncharacteristically sluggish opening for the Rams, one where they dipped to 10-4 down before racing in three tries in eight minutes to end the opening half up 20-10.

“We’ve got to get that start right. If we do that, we should be good,” Hancock added.

Western went into camp at Mudgee on Friday and a video session coupled with a tough ball work run 24 hours out from the decider should, Hancock says, help alleviate any nerves.

A short run on game-day morning will do the same ahead of a third-straight championship final for Western’s under 16s.

Although a lot of this group is about is embarking on a maiden appearance in a grand final.

“And, in a funny way, that sort of defines this group. They’re talented kids but a lot of them come from teams that haven’t had a lot of success … they cherish all of these moments and they work hard for it,” Hancock said.

“It’s about the kids. I’ll just point them in the right direction and give them a few tips along the way.

“It’s all about believing in the hard work they’ve done.”

In a boost for the Rams, Blayney winger Aiden Nunn cleared to play ahead of the grand final after coming off early in Western’s win over Northern Rivers.

Kick-off is at noon on Saturday at Glen Willow. Western won last year’s under 16s country championship, a win on Saturday would complete a rare double for the Rams.

  • WESTERN: 1 Tyler Colley (St Pat’s), 2 Aiden Nunn (Blayney Bears), 3 Noah Ryan (Dubbo St Johns), 4 Mason Pollack (Orange Bloomfield), 5 Cooper Monk (Orange CYMS), 6 Rylee Blackhall (Wellington Cowboys), 7 Noah Griffith (Bathurst Panthers), 8 Harry Sullivan (Oberon Tigers), 9 Josh Dominello (Orange CYMS), 10 Marlin Pollack (Orange Bloomfield), 11 Blake Martin (St Pat’s), 12 Jack Hartwig (C) (Red Bend Catholic College), 13 Jack Smith (Red Bend Catholic College); Bench: 14 Elijah Colliss (Wellington Cowboys), 15 Charlie Holman (Bourke Warriors), 16 Thomas Phillips (Red Bend Catholic College), 17 Cody Crisp (Parkes Spaceman), 18 Jayden Fisher (St Pat’s).