Padua College hopes the lightning improvement it showed at the Confraternity Carnival will evolve into a well-rounded team that will be among the frontrunners for the AIC’s first ever rugby league premiership.
Padua’s proud rugby league history includes the likes of old boys Paul Vautin, David Shillington and Dane Carlaw and it needed every bit of that tradition when it arrived at the prestigious Confraternity showdown without playing one league match this season.
Coach Gary O’Brien – a former first-grade mentor in Brisbane – decided against a trial to ensure his players could get some rest after a demanding First XV rugby season.
But that meant he had no time to develop combinations as Padua arrived at “Confro” to take on established league powerhouses from across Queensland.
However, in just their fourth match of the competition, Padua stunned St Brendan’s College, Yeppoon, recovering from an 18-0 halftime deficit to draw their quarter-final and qualify for a remarkable semi-final berth.
They were unable to defeat eventual winners Ignatius Park College in the semi-final, but O’Brien hoped the teamwork forged on the fields of Bundaberg would pay off in the AIC competition, which begins on Saturday.
Padua plays fellow Confro participants Iona College – coached by old boy and former Maroons Origin star Chris McKenna – in the first round at St Patrick’s College’s playing fields at Curlew Park, Shorncliffe.
In other matches, St Patrick’s takes on St Laurence’s College while St Edmund’s College meets Villanova College.
Marist College Ashgrove will have the first-round bye in a seven-team competition that will be hosted by one school each weekend.
Each of the seven participating schools will field one team from Year 5 to Year 10 inclusive, before the prized First XIII matches get underway at 2.40pm.
Selecting a winner this season will be difficult, with many of the players coming off their competitive rugby union season which was dominated by Marist Ashgrove.
But Confro shone a light on the strength of the First XIII teams with Padua finishing fourth above Marist Ashgrove (seventh), St Patrick’s (ninth) and Iona College (11th) in the first division.
St Laurence’s showed promise finishing 21st overall while St Edmund’s 29th placing belied the talent at the Ipswich school still beaming at old boy Jake Turpin’s emergence into a frontline NRL player with the Brisbane Broncos.
Villanova did not compete at Confro, but the school has a rich rugby league history including former student Christian Welch, who is a member of the Queensland Origin squad.
Padua underlined its talent with a trial win over St Laurence’s last weekend as the Kedron school ran on to its college oval for the first time in many years. This was possible because the school only needed one field for its trials, rather than its more expansive set-up at its Banyo fields.
“There was a full grandstand on Saturday and there has been a lot of excitement around the school about what is to come this year,” O’Brien said.
“We were a bit lucky at times (at the Confraternity Carnival), but I was really impressed with the way the boys handled themselves. They’re a good group and it was fantastic to see them improve in leaps and bounds over the short period of time we had for training.
“The biggest challenge is building the habits of a rugby league player. Simple things like controlling the ruck and getting back 10 metres is stuff we have to work on.”
The players to watch in the brown and gold will be the elusive Darcy Ryan alongside Harry Taylor in the centres
Hooker, Ethan Powell was awarded his schools Best and Fairest in Bundaberg and will also be eager to impress again come Saturday.
Their rivals on Saturday, Iona College will be keen to get one up over the team that beat them by two tries in rugby union last term.
Iona will host next year’s Confraternity Carnival and has plenty of history to draw on with the likes of Roosters forward Jared Waerea-Hargreaves among their former students.
Charlie Kwok-Sun Barker will carry some of the most league experience in the Iona team despite being only in year 11.
The strong-running second-rower, who had a standout season in the centres for the 1st XV, has now played two Confraternity Carvivals.
In the other matches, St Patrick’s College will be keen to impress at home against Christian Brothers rival, St Laurence’s College. St Patrick’s fullback William Boland was chosen in the honorary team at the Confraternity Carnival, adding to the school’s Confro history that includes Origin forward Dylan Napa.
St Laurence’s were impressive in the second division at Confro, showcasing talent from their emerging ranks including a member of their football First XI team who was impressive. Roosters halfback Cooper Cronk is among the many league stars who attended St Laurence’s.
Meanwhile in Saturday’s other match, Villanova will be welcomed to rugby league as they take on the improving St Edmund’s College. Villanova showed plenty of promise in the First XV competition this season to make them a wildcard in the inaugural season. Welch’s elevation to the Origin squad has underlined the talent at the school.
St Edmund’s had a slow start at Confro, but clicked into gear with strong wins to ensure the Ipswich school will be a handful for their rivals across the season.