Terry Lamb Reserve at Chester Hill was the venue for a massive day of trials for the Eels and Bulldogs junior elite pathway teams. A healthy crowd of spectators braved the hot conditions at a ground where securing a spot in the shade was similar odds to winning the lottery. Donning footy gear and playing in this heat would have been a challenge.
Kicking off with the Tarsha Gale Cup at 9am and concluding with the Jersey Flegg final whistle after 5pm, this was a five grade footy feast.
Here’s our notes from today:
Tarsha Gale Cup
This was a highly entertaining match in which the Bulldogs emerged victorious by 6 tries to 5. The features of women’s rugby league that fans enjoy watching – big hits and open play – were on display in ample proportions.
These young ladies would not have had the same opportunities for playing or for elite coaching in their background as their male junior rep counterparts, but there is some genuine skill on show in these matches. The second phase play and ball movement created a plethora of opportunities throughout the match.
in today’s clash, the Bulldogs had their nose in front, and every time that the Eels came back at them with a try, they’d reply almost immediately to make it a game of catch up.
Both coaches would have been pleased with the hit-out, with a bit of work on ball retention sure to feature at their next training sessions.
Under 15s Development Squad
This match finished in an eight tries to two victory to the Eels. After the Bulldogs opened proceedings with a fine winger’s try in the corner, Eels middle forward Cayne Nicholas continued his first try scoring efforts with a strong 10m charge that opened Parra’s account.
After a period where the game was a bit scrappy – understandable in the conditions – the Eels then kicked away for a convincing win.
Lock forward, Hayden Reti- McClintock caught the eye with a strong performance in both attack and defence. Oseni Kaufusi and Max Tupou also helped the Eels pack to gain ascendancy and lay the platform for the victory.
In the backs, Freeman Forsythe showed great hands and strong carries but none was stronger than fullback Hayden Orley. The Eels custodian was brave under the high ball, returned the ball powerfully and was a handful for the Bulldogs in every run. One inspirational display of his skill set was rewarded with one of the tries of the day.
There isn’t a competition for the 14s or 15s squads and not every club has such squads. However, these teams will be given matches throughout the year, including at least one country carnival event. It’s an important introduction to elite football for the young players and allows the clubs to expose the groups to quality coaching – an important component in their skills development.
Harold Matthews (Under 16s)
This was an important trial for the Eels Harold Matts as the Bulldogs aggressive play challenged the Eels pack in a way that the Penrith and Wests sides couldn’t do. In a physical encounter, the final result was a three tries to two victory to the Dogs.
Watching this Bulldogs outfit, it’s obvious that their coach had done a fine job in the lead up to this match. Their power play continually challenged the Eels defence and the Eels responded with far too much dropped ball.
Only glimpses of the Eels dominant performance from the previous trial was on display. Given that you look to learn from a trial, rather than getting the result, this was the ideal lesson before the season kicked off. To be fair, the Bulldogs provided a similar lesson in brutality and execution at the same day of trials last year.
Rather than identifying any best on field for the Eels, I’d prefer to praise the Dogs for the way they stuck to their game plan, and the shapes that they ran in attack. Given the amount of ball that the Eels turned over (far too often in the Dogs 20), I should probably give a wrap to Parra’s fitness. It seemed like the Bulldogs were given plenty of possession and the Eels did well to hang in under tough conditions.
Moving forward, I’d expect some work at training on combinations and maybe a bit of tweaking in their top 17. Some replacement players did a fair job of putting their hands up for consideration.
SG Ball (Under 18s)
As the scorching conditions reached their peak in the early afternoon, the Eels and Bulldogs clashed in the SG Ball. Like their Harold Matthews cohorts, the Eels were significantly below their best as they eventually succumbed to Canterbury in a tough and physical encounter but it was not a trial without merit.
Kyle Schneider deftly laid on a neat try from short range for powerhouse forward Stefano Utoikamanu while fullback J.P. Nohra gave all spectators a vivid reminded of his talent from the back as he slashed through the right-edge of the Bulldogs to score a powerful individual try.
There is no reason to doubt the pedigree of this team given their eye-popping success over the last two seasons but by the same token it is clear that they are working through some preseason rust.
We will learn a lot more about the 2018 SG Ball class when the take to the field in earnest in a few weeks’ time but my initial prognosis is that the Eels will be extremely competitive through the forward pack and back line. Schneider and Nohra are proven studs at their respective positions in the spine so it will come down to how the halves can guide their team around the park.
Jersey Flegg (Under 20s) Trial 1
Continuing with the theme of the day, the Eels were scrappy under the intense summer heat – ultimately drawing with the Cronulla Sharks in the opening hit out of the preseason.
In perhaps the most important piece of news out of the first Flegg trial, Tui Afualo made his long awaited return from injury…and he was up to his usual antics from his first carry! Looking trim and explosive, Afualo showed little regard for any intent from a defender to tackle him while also showcasing his deft passing game down the right edge.
Across the rest of the squad it was very much a case of grinding off the preseason rust. Austin Dias, a tall development prop, worked hard in attack and defence while the tireless Jesse Cronin got a rare chance to play on an edge instead of in the middle.
Joseph Taipari and Todd Sapienza worked together in the halves and seemed content not to overplay their hands. Followers of TCT should be familiar with the talented Taipari after an excellent 2017 in the SG Ball. Sapienza is a newcomer to the Flegg squad after cutting his teeth in the Sydney Shield for Guildford in 2017. On first viewing, Sapienza looks a very willing defender with some play making chops.
Michael Cheer, an interstate Eel, who starred at fullback in the corresponding SG Ball trial last year was tested thoroughly by a Cronulla outfit who enjoyed largely favourable field position throughout the trial. While there were no game-breaking heroics this time around, he is one player I look forward to monitoring after his splashy first impression way back at the start of 2017.
Jersey Flegg (Under 20s) Trial 2
The Eels certainly saved the best for last as a platoon of SG Ball eligible players were let off the chain and sicced on the Canberra Raiders in the second Flegg trial. A late consolation try probably flattered Canberra more than anything with the final score reading 4 tries to 1 in favour of the Eels but the application and attitude of the young Parra team was obvious from the opening kickoff.
Taipari and Sapienza played with greater fluency this game, although they were still far from dominant, and combined to lay on a lovely try for Ethan Parry following a gorgeous sleight of hand from Taipari to create the initial break.
Young forwards Stefano Utoikamanu, Valance Harris and Charbel Tasipale all looked at home in the senior grade. Harris of course was graded in the former Holden Cup in 2017 and is familiar with the Under 20s age group. Stefano added a second try to his haul for the day with a powerful burst from short range and it must be said that the highly talented forward prospect is looking in imposing physical shape.
Kyle Schneider got a prolonged run at hooker and look very assured – defending strongly and chiming in with a handy kicking game.
Mostly though it was the uniformity of the defensive intent that impressed. Canberra struggled to mount any pressure in our red zone largely due to good line speed and relentless pressure to pursue any poor pass or error.
With an embarrassment of riches sitting the opening trial(s) out, the Eels are shaping up nicely for 2018. Dylan Brown, Reed Mahoney, Michael Tupou, John Fonua, Oregon Kaufusi, Salesi Faingaa and Sean Keppie should all hopefully be available for Round 1 while the likes of Steve Dresler, Blaise Barnes and Filia Utoikamanu will rejoin the squad down the road.
The Flegg have two more trials scheduled to my knowledge, with their next showing at Ringrose Park on Thursday week before they travel to Newcastle as part of our primary preseason trial for all three major grades.