The Junior Representative season is only two weeks away. This weekend saw the final trials for all clubs as their preseasons reach a conclusion.
Unfortunately, like many other areas within the community, Covid impacted the preseason preparations for the elite junior programs.
Prior to Christmas, the Matts and Ball teams were able to play trials against the Raiders at Goulburn but the Gale trial was cancelled.
Then just last weekend, all NSWRL junior trials were cancelled.
That left this weekend as the only trial for the Tarsha Gale team, and just the second trial for the Matts and Ball teams.
Windsor Sporting Complex was the venue for the final trials of this Junior Rep pre-season after the match was transferred from Federation Forest Reserve.
For anyone who hasn’t been to this venue, it’s a terrific one for this level of footy. There’s a stand and tiered hills surround the rest of the field. Windsor Leagues Club and it’s car park adjoins the field.
Tarsha Gale Trial – Friday, January 21
Parramatta 3 tries defeated Norths 0
Parramatta 2 tries defeated Penrith 0
Unfortunately, The Cumberland Throw was unable to attend the Friday afternoon/evening Tarsha Gale trials at Windsor Sporting Complex. However, we have tracked down the important mail from the match for this report.
The trial was organised between three clubs – The Eels, The Bears and the Panthers. Each club played both of the others over thirty minutes contests, meaning all three got the benefit of a sixty minute hit out.
The first match pitched the Eels against the Bears, whilst the second game had the Eels backing up to take on a fresh Panthers outfit. The Eels have a squad of around 23 so there was good game time had for most of the players.
Coach Ryan Walker had set the team a goal of winning the ruck and also showing urgency in their goal line defence. The scoreboard provided evidence of their execution. If there’s one aspect of a game of footy that would please any coach, it’s keeping the opposition scoreless.
Defensive pressure is also lessened when you make good yardage when in possession. The Eels impressed with both their carries off their line, and with gaining the territorial advantage to create the platform for their attack.
I had observed and reported on the skill base of the Tarsha Gale team at training last week, and this was put to good use with creative set plays.
The girls now have two weeks of preparation in the lead into Round 1 against the Roosters.
Harold Matthews and SG Ball Trials – Saturday, January 22.
Although the sun was starting to shine, the ground appeared to still be very heavy from this week’s rain.
Trials aren’t easy to report on, so please excuse any inaccuracies or a failure to mention or give credit to all players. Around 26 players are used in each team and there are a range of player numbers on the jerseys, including double ups and numbers that don’t match the position.
Furthermore, there are no announcements to accompany try scorers or replacements and no clock or scoreboard was operating.
Please note that kicks for goal are not taken in these trials. That applies to both conversions and penalties.
Mohammad Alameddine, Luke Maroun, Michael Gabreal, Junior Fagalele, Richard Penisini, Blaize Talagi, Lorenzo Talataina, Sam Tuivati, Matt Arthur, Jordan Uta, Jezaiah Funa-Luta, Jordan Faleono, Sebastian Piukala
Backs – Dom Farrugia, Filo Totoa Tunumafono, Lucius Maliga, Mark Williams, Dylan Brettle
Forwards – Joshua Bridgett, Charbel Chehade, Lachlan Coinakis, Zadius Muagututi’a, Tyson Sanaalang, Mikayel Tito, Markkuz Ofanoa
The last time that these two clubs clashed in the Harold Matts was in the 2021 Grand Final qualifier, a match won by the Eels in a high quality encounter.
After the opening twenty minutes, I was beginning to think that the Panthers had circled this trial on the calendar as the first step on their road to avenge that loss.
To be honest, the physicality of the opening period came close to crossing the line and I was concerned that it might boil over. Fortunately both teams settled down without losing any of the toughness.
This clash was broken into three 20 minute periods. Parra’s Team 1 played the first period, Team 2 played the second (with a couple of team 1 assisting), before a combination of both teams played out the final period.
I thought that the Eels had the better of the first half, but they ultimately paid the price for handling errors when conceding possession late in the first period before the Panthers crossed literally seconds before the siren sounded.
Parra were the first to score a try when halves Lorenzo Talataina and Blaize Talagi linked on the last tackle then shifted the ball to the right instead of kicking. Richard Penisini was the beneficiary of the clever work which created the space out wide for him to plant the ball in the corner.
At this early Sam Tuivati and Michael Gabreal were causing problems with their power runs, whilst dummy half Matt Arthur was providing quality service and tackling anything that moved. Mohammad Alameddine was fearless and near faultless at fullback. Both packs were absolutely ripping in, be it in attack or defence.
However, as the game progressed, the heavy field seemed to be getting the better of both teams, and the number of incomplete sets started to increase. It was the Panthers who would be the first to take advantage of this, scoring a well executed try via their forwards. They have a big team and if they get too much possession they will make opposition teams pay.
Then just before the end of the first period there was some consternation when the Panthers were awarded a penalty after they dropped the ball when camped in the Eels quarter.
This tough call against the Eels was then compounded when another decision immediately fell their way. The Panthers ball runner lost possession in a tackle, only for the referee to allow a support player to pick up the ball and score. That’s footy.
The second period commenced with both sides fielding close to a completely different team.
Penrith were quick out of the gates, camping in the Eels quarter and earning repeat sets off a kick and then a penalty. Ultimately the pressure from the Panthers was too difficult for the Eels to hold out.
After backing up from the first period, Lorenzo Talataina edged the Eels closer with a try after backing up a good interchange of passes on the right edge.
Halfback Dylan Brettle was impressing with his passing game and Lachlan Coinakis at dummy half was very busy in attack and defence. Back rower Charbel Chehade was a standout with a collection of fearless charges that saw him fight for every centimetre of ground after contact was made.
The score in this period remained at one try apiece.
Both sides seemed to really mix the teams up for the final 20 minutes.
Penrith extended their lead with a superb try after drawing Parra’s two outside backs infield then hitting the winger with a brilliant cut out pass.
The rest of the period was a see-sawing affair with neither team gaining any ascendancy and the incomplete sets featuring a little too frequently.
It was the referee who had the final say in the scoring.
Just before full time, Parra were pressing hard in the Panthers quarter. Blaize Talagi charged at the line, then pushed the ball back in the tackle only for the ref to call it a lost ball, thereby disallowing the try to his support runner.
Final overall score: Penrith 4 tries defeated the Eels 2 tries.
Firstly, this Penrith team will feature in the finals. They are very big and play a physical game. If given territory and possession will score plenty of points.
The Eels had far too many incomplete sets today and ultimately I saw this as the difference between the teams.
Parra also play a physical game and have the skill in the spine to create opportunities. However, the lost possession did not allow them to sustain any pressure.
The outside backs didn’t get too many opportunities, a reflection on both the dropped ball and a Panthers defence which was getting up very quickly.
Ultimately, from a trial perspective there was plenty to take out of this game for coach Chris Howard. The Eels were missing about five players, and outside of some handling issues matched Penrith for most of the game. The Panthers are always strong and provide an excellent guide for how the preparations have gone.
Patrick Spence, Caleb Coroneous, Declan Murray, Tutonu Junior Wright, Kalvin Epati, Terrence Lafai, Reilly Canning, Lance Fualema, Nick Lenaz, Ibrahim Fakhri, Saxon Pryke, Josh Alhazim, Dom Destradis
Cody Parry, Freeman Forsythe, Suliasi Aho, Daniel Reardon, Paulie Manual, Josh Russell, Tohu-Kadaf Cecil-Hamiora, Markis Atoa, Yehya Ayache, Aufag Mino, Raff Destradis, Dion Iro, Mark Simon
The health of a player was the greatest concern when the SG Ball match was abandoned soon after the start of the second period. A Panthers player required ambulance attention and transport from the field of play. We send our best wishes to that player.
From a footy perspective, just over 35 minutes of footy was played.
In that time, we were once again witnessing another bruising encounter, and both teams were causing havoc with second phase play.
New Eels half, Reilly Canning opened the scoring after a shift to the right close to the Panthers line provided him with some space to showcase his speed off the mark. Slicing through an opening, the former touch footy star was tackled right on the line but was able to stretch his arm out to plant the ball.
Penrith soon struck back after a poor Eels play the ball gave the Panthers a scrum feed on Parra’s 40 metre line. From the scrum win, they immediately shifted the ball to their right which opened a yawning passage on the wing for them to score in the corner.
Just before the break the Panthers broke the deadlock with a 40 metre intercept try.
The Eels commenced the second period with just a handful of team changes. They would also be the first to score.
In a remarkable passage of play across repeated sets, Parra players were held up four times over the line, in four entirely different attacking scenarios.
Typically, it was a pass hitting the ground that seemed to disrupt the defence and provide the opportunity for Terrence Lafai to weave his way across the line with a fine individual try.
With the scores locked at two tries all, the injury to the Panthers player brought play to a halt. With the decision made to keep him immobilised until an ambulance arrived the match was then abandoned. There was no other decision to be made under these circumstances.
At this point quite a few Eels players had yet to take the field.
It was difficult to make an accurate assessment of the team based on today’s game time, and this was the only trial I’ve watched before the season commences.
An obvious reference point is that the Matts team from 2021 provides a number of players and the coach, Steve O’Dea.
The back row of Saxon Pryke, Josh Alhazim and Dom Destradis made noticeable contributions in that first period. This was my first look at front rower Ibrahim Fakhri and he proved difficult for the Panthers defence to bring down.
I was only familiar with half of the spine. Terrence Lafai and Patrick Spence are quality players from that 2021 Matts team, but Nick Lenaz and Reilly Canning are new to this group. Nick made a number of good runs around the ruck and Reilly impressed with his try and his pace.
Outside of that it’s quite difficult, or even unfair to offer more observations or individual assessments given the team has now missed one and a half trials.
Round one is just two weeks away.