The Gold Coast’s best young talent will be on display tomorrow (Saturday, April 25) as Gold Coast White takes on the Sunshine Coast in the Cyril Connell Cup semi-final.
In what will be a massive day at Pizzey Park, the Gold Coast White Under 16 representative team will be the curtain raiser for Burleigh’s massive ANZAC Day Intrust Super Cup clash with the PNG Hunters.
“It’s a massive occasion for these young fellas who have been working at it for over six months now,” White coach Mark Ross said.
“It hasn’t been lost on them the significance of the day and also the significance of what they’ve achieved.
“Now they’ve just got to convert that into reality and put on a great performance against a very good and underrated Sunshine Coast team.”
A Green and White Gold Coast side competed in both the Cyril Connell (16) and Mal Meninga Cup (18) with the White Connell Cup side the only one of the four to advance to the knockout stages.
Ross said the primary goal of everybody involved in the Cyril Connell/Mal Meninga Cup system on the Gold Coast is to help players develop on their way to playing at higher levels.
“The program starts off with 90 kids back in September,” he said. “Then the squad gets cut down to 46 and that squad trains all summer, all pre-season through to January before we take it down to our Green and White sides.
“From there, all those kids get a chance to go on and develop, and that’s what this program is really all about; developing these kids so that they are ready to take the next step.”
GC White went undefeated through the group stages of the tournament en-route to finishing at the very top of Pool A.
Ross said the camaraderie and team-first mindset of his young squad was the key to their success.
“It’s so important in these short term tournaments that they gel as a team and I think that’s the best thing that we’ve achieved,” he said.
“Sometimes in these high performance and development squads you’ve got players that are a little bit self-interested, but this group has come together as a team, almost like a club team, which is very rare at this level. They do it for each other week in, week out.”
While Ross was reluctant to pick out stand out performers, two players that have featured heavily in the team’s success this year are halfback Harry Fitzhugh and second rower Ben Thomas.
“Harry comes to us via the Bilambil Jets,” Ross said.
“He is a born leader and a typical halfback who loves getting involved and driving the team around.
“Benny (Thomas) is a great story. He comes from Beaudesert and basically came to us pretty raw and green at the beginning of the year and now has evolved into one of the better edge players in this whole competition.
“The strength of this program, though, is that all 23 players in the squad have developed and evolved and are now all bona fide representative players.
“Those guys might be the ones that show up on the highlights reel, but they can do it because of the foundations that have been laid by the guys that aren’t always on the highlights reel, but they’re on my highlights reel.”
On Saturday they take on the Sunshine Coast, who finished second in Pool B.
Ross said the Sunshine Coast were “underrated” and posed significant threats through their forward pack, hooker Tyson Smoothy and some dynamic backs.
“What we need to do is to start well. If we start well, we’ve got points in us,” he said.
“We’ve been a little bit slow in starting throughout the course of the competition, so we’ve been working hard all week long on making sure we get off to a great start with 100% completions.
“We need to just go with Sunshine Coast who will come out of the blocks at 100 miles per hour. If we can stay with them for the first 15, I know that these boys have the ability to go on and win the game.”
Gold Coast White’s semi-final against Sunshine Coast kicks off at 1.30pm this Saturday at Pizzey Park.
Read the Townsville v Souths Logan preview and download the Connell / Meninga Cup teams HERE.