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Pathway allows school leavers to finish with their mates

The final year of junior footy alongside school mates is always one to remember, but when COVID-19 threatened to ruin the season most cherished, a group of determined Sunshine Coast administrators got to work.

What was initially tragedy when the senior league opted not to play on this season, quickly turned to triumph as a collaboration of club presidents joined forces to make sure the last season for the Sunshine Coast's school leavers wasn't going to be on the sidelines.

"A big chunk of our under 18s side are still at school, so this year is really their final chance to play together in one big group," Coolum Colts president Josh Olsen said.

"They may stay back and play in a second year of 18s after finishing school... but some may have to pull out due to work commitments or go on play higher levels of football.

"It was really important to give the boys every opportunity to potentially play their last year of football with their school mates.

"That was one of the big points of making sure we got this year up and going."

Celebrating 30 years last season, Olsen's club were one of the main drivers of continuing the youth competition after being able to create a pathway to their senior teams.

"We've been predominately a junior-based club for most of the last 30 years, but in the last couple of years we've looked to progress as a senior club as well with a Division 2 team for the last three years, two of which have been premiership-winning seasons," Olsen said. 

"This year was the first year we identified a group of juniors we wanted to bring up through and transition from juniors to the seniors as it's the first year of having under 18s for a number of seasons.

"As soon as we found out the senior league were making the call to not play this year, I had a chat with a couple of other presidents and Cam [Herbert] from the junior league to sort out what options we'd have playing under the junior licence to make sure the age group didn't cease.

"Both junior and senior leagues have been wonderful in working together to make it happen and it was a really good result for everyone as we've ended up with a seven-team under 18 competition this year, which is great."

Another factor in the fight to continue the pinnacle age group was the potential for development to be stifled should no rugby league be played. 

"The thing with the jump from juniors to seniors is that if we lose 2020 with these bunch of kid, we could potentially lose three years of development as next year kids may not feel like there's not a pathway for them to go and there's still no certainty between now and the end of the year about what's happening in 2020," Olsen said.

"This may see them lost to other sports.

"If we weren't to go ahead but other sports did, we have a big potential to lose them to other codes, so it was really important for us as a sport to have pathways and opportunities for kids in that age group."

After months of training, the Colts are super keen to get out and kick the footy tomorrow night.

"A lot of our kids have been training pretty much since late last year when they finished under 18s and trained all through isolation, including at home during the lockdown period," Olsen said.

"I think it was important to keep those kids motivated, active and interested because the hardest transition for rugby league is from juniors to seniors from our retention numbers, so it was really important for us to keep these kids interested and keep them around the club and feeling involved."

The Coolum Under 18 side play their opening match against Beerwah tomorrow night at Ronnie Cargill Oval.

View the 2020 Sunshine Coast Junior Rugby League draw here.