The Victoria Thunderbolts have announced they will withdraw from the QRL Major Competitions and return to the NSWRL next season to compete in their Jersey Flegg (Under 20) and SG Ball (Under 18) competitions.
The last time a Victorian team was represented in the NSWRL was in 2014, when the Melbourne Storm fielded sides in both the SG Ball and Harold Matthews (Under 16s) competitions. The Storm finished eighth and 17th in both competitions respectively.
From 2015 to 2017, NRL Victoria has played in QRL-based competitions before undergoing a name change and playing as the Thunderbolts in 2018.
The Thunderbolts finished fourth in the Hastings Deering Colts (Under 20s) and eighth in the Mal Meninga Cup (Under 18s).
Their Under 20 side also saw a number of stars step up to the challenge of the Intrust Super Cup, with Queensland representative player Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Sunshine Coast Falcons / Easts Tigers) amongst the names that also includes Junior Ratuva (Sunshine Coast Falcons), Cooper Johns (Sunshine Coast Falcons) and Kelma Tuilagi (Easts Tigers).
NRL VIC Pathways and Coaching Manager Ryan Walker said they were looking forward to returning to the NSWRL and testing themselves against the best players in the state.
“When we were involved in 2014 our teams were competitive,” Walker said.
“Since then our local kids and our pathways have got stronger and we’re coming off strong performances in the QRL competitions.
“I’m confident that they’ll give a good account of themselves and hopefully put the Thunderbolts on the map in NSW.”
Walker said the decision was made to return to the NSWRL for logistical and commercial reasons, and the success of Melbourne Storm in the NRL had made an impact in Victoria with most of their players now home-grown products.
“We’ve been competing against teams from NSW and Queensland from Under 14s, and we’re seeing our local Victorian players now being successful,” Walker said.
“Our SG Ball squad will be close to 100% locals.
“It’s pleasing to know they’re basically all Victorian pathway players who have competed against the best teams in Queensland, and we’re excited now to do that against the Sydney-based NRL clubs as well.”
QRL Major Competitions Manager Dave Maiden said the Victoria-based teams had given a great account of themselves during their time with the QRL.
“They have been a bonus to our competitions,” Maiden said of their inclusion these past four seasons.
“They were tough opposition ... and having the opportunity to travel to Melbourne to play them provided a real learning curve for a lot of our teams.
“Teams had to stay overnight to play them there, and you learn a lot about the character of your players when you spend time with them in camp.
“Hopefully Victoria have gained a lot from playing against our sides, as we know the Queensland sides have gained a lot by playing against them.”