WESTERN Rams under 18s coach Kurt Hancock has been impressed by the work rate of his players ahead of this Saturday's trial game against Riverina at Forbes, but none more so than those who have narrowly missed out on selection in previous seasons.
Hancock said the mentality among the new group of boys is setting the team up well for their Laurie Daley Cup bid in 2021.
"Our attitude over the trials have been really good in the 18s, because those guys played some footy through COVID. I'm really pleased with the 18s, and we've had a few guys come back from playing last year as 17-year-olds," he said.
"But there's guys who missed out at both the 16s and 17s who have developed really well over the last six months of footy, and they've worked their way into this last squad of 24. That's the most rewarding thing to see in this program.
"Those are the guys like David West and Nathan Walker. Sam Lane is another, from Lithgow, and he's been close or thereabouts for the past few years. Here's scored a few tries in our trials playing at fullback."
Hancock said several returners from last season's under 18s campaign are ready and raring to take up an extra level of responsibility.
"Aston Warwick is one of those guys. He's currently at Penrith Panthers doing pre-season. It would be nice if we didn't see him this season, to be honest, because playing down in Sydney is his big goal, like a lot of these guys," he said.
"Braye Porter, Finlay Nelson are guys who have made country 16s a couple of years ago and are the guys you look to this year.
"Josh Belfanti from Bathurst and Billy Statham from Cowra are others doing some work with Panthers."
The coach said not too much is known about this year's Riverina squad.
Rams lost their cup clash with Riverina last season and Hancock is expecting another strong showing in 2021.
"Riverina were much improved last year in 16s and 18s. They got competitive after a couple of games, and I know with the Raiders improving in that area it gives their footy a shot in the arm," he said.
"They've also been a team with a lot of tough country boys."
The match gets underway at 6.30pm, with the under 16s trial against the same opponents starting from 5pm.