Mackay Cutters are one of three North Queensland sides who will this year have the opportunity to test themselves against South East Queensland opposition with the start of the inaugural statewide FOGS Under 20s Cup competition this weekend.
The seven-round competition, which concludes with a grand final at Redcliffe’s Dolphin Oval on May 7, is Queensland’s first statewide Under 20s competition and will see the best young footballers from across the state line up against each other.
Former Warriors and Cowboys halfback Grant Rovelli will coach the Cutters for their debut season and says the excitement is evident within his squad ahead the opening weekend.
“I didn’t realise the impact it would have on our boys, but they’re really excited about the prospect of playing teams from South East Queensland,” he said.
“There’s definitely the excitement factor of playing against new opposition, but also the experience of playing against clubs who have NRL-grade players in their sides and testing themselves against them.”
With a strong tie to the local community and a deep passion for local youth development, Rovelli believes the new competition structure has plugged a gap in the pathway for northern players and provided an opportunity for more to continue playing in the region.
“For the young players who want to stay in the region and progress, this is an opportunity to be able to do that in a professional environment,” he said.
“We have had quite a few players drop out in that age group because of the gap between Under 18s and A Grade.
“With the new format, the players who aren’t fully developed yet have the opportunity to do so and then go on to the senior competition at a local level.”
The introduction of the Under 20s competition has also harvested an inclusive atmosphere within the club as the squad get the opportunity to train alongside the Cutters’ Intrust Super Cup squad.
“The new format has given us the opportunity to have a family atmosphere within the club and I think the players are really enjoying that as well as the experience to train with the Intrust Super Cup squad,” Rovelli said.
This year will also see the return of the Foley Shield concept; the pinnacle competition in North Queensland rugby league following a five-year absence.
In a new format, teams across the Under 18, Under 20 and Intrust Super Cup levels at the Cutters, Townsville Blackhawks and Northern Pride will all be involved in one of rugby league’s notoriously tough competitions.
The Cutters open their Under 20s campaign with two home fixtures against Northern Pride (March 4) and the re-branded Western Mustangs (March 11) before their first trip south to play Wynnum Manly at BMD Kougari Oval on March 25.
“It’s good for us to play our first couple of games in familiar surroundings in front of family and friends because that’s ultimately what means the most to a lot of the players,” Rovelli said.
“We are excited about the opportunity to travel and play in Brisbane too though.”