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U20s Cup lays platform for the future

by Tony Webeck

ISC17_News_TonyWebeck_Round10
The Mackay Cutters faced Redcliffe in the final of the FOGS Under 20s Cup.

They may have finished on the wrong side of the scoreboard last weekend, but Mackay Cutters CEO Troy Rovelli believes his club could be the big winners when the statewide Under 20s competition kicks off next year.

As Redcliffe and Mackay prepare to meet this weekend in Round 10 of the Intrust Super Cup; last weekend the respective clubs met in the final of the 10-week FOGS Under 20 Cup competition that will serve as the precursor to the expanded season next year that after 10 years replaces the NRL's National Youth Competition.

Redcliffe went through the FOGS Cup season undefeated and got the better of Mackay 34-12 in the final, but for Rovelli and his son Grant who coached the team, making the grand final was a major triumph in itself.

In assembling a team to take part in the competition this season, the Cutters faced resistance from local clubs in order to access their best young players – and after initially selecting a squad of 30, struggled to cobble together a team.

"What we endured and how we came out the other side steeled them I think. Resilience is the word we use in league now and they showed a lot of that."

By the time they asked the local clubs to reschedule their games so the Cutters Under 20s team could play their semi-final as the curtain-raiser to the senior team's Round 9 game against Norths, resistance had transformed into overwhelming local support.

Next year, youngsters currently aligned with the NQ Cowboys Under 20s will in some instances return to Mackay to play for the Cutters and Rovelli believes they owe the 2017 crop a great deal of gratitude.

"These guys have laid a footprint and certainly knocked down a fair few barriers by what they've achieved. It's made it a lot easier than it would have been," Rovelli said.

"What we endured and how we came out the other side steeled them I think. Resilience is the word we use in league now and they showed a lot of that."

As for the Dolphins, last year's Intrust Super Cup minor premiers and club champions were thrilled to add another piece of silverware to the club's foyer.

Recognising the fact that his club – like many others in the Greater Brisbane area – have competed in an Under 20s competition for a number of years, Redcliffe CEO Grant Cleal believes that those regional clubs who aren't normally able to take part will benefit greatly from the FOGS Under 20 Cup competition that has just completed.

"At clubs like ours, we offer a program of development from juniors right through hopefully to first grade, but now you'll have Mackay kids that can come into that Cutters system and do a full pre-season which is great," Cleal said.

"We've been doing that for years with our Under 20s, so I think it's a great thing that kids, particularly in those regional areas, can stay at home, start and finish apprenticeships while playing footy at their local club until they're ready to play NRL."

Rovelli said the new Under 20s competition would be a uniting force for the region.

"I've been around footy for a long time and for mine, this is the most exciting time that I've been involved with for a long time," Rovelli said.

"The mayor had his charity ball on Saturday night and we were the topic of conversation. In his speech he reminded everyone that the Under 20s match was being live-streamed and we had a great contingent of Mackay people actually travel down for the game.

"This has taken us to another level in terms of the tribalism of Mackay.

"It's going to be nothing but positive for us."

Did you know? with Tony Webeck

The Dolphins will become the first club to play 500 Cup games when they host the Cutters on Saturday night. Premiers in 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2006, Redcliffe remain one of the powerhouses of the competition. Their overall record reads 317 wins, 168 losses and 14 draws.

A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.