Rugby league on the Gold Coast will be back in a big way this weekend as last year’s A Grade grand finalists Burleigh Bears and Southport Tigers face off in Round 1 of the QTOP Cup at Pizzey Park tomorrow.
With no Intrust Super Cup this year, this season is bound to be unlike any other with those players now becoming available for selection in the local competition.
Having beaten Southport 30-12 in last year’s decider, reigning premiers Burleigh will be looking to start their 2020 campaign with a bang, in what will be a shortened season that will see all teams play only 10 rounds with a two-week finals series.
For Southport, they will be looking to seek some revenge on the side that made them fall just short of going all the way last season.
In what will surely be a physical and tough battle for both sides coming off lengthy breaks, Bears coach Matt Foster is excited by the challenge the Tigers pose to his young squad.
“A lot of physicality and a lot of experience is against us as Southport have recruited very well, especially with no Intrust Super Cup," the premiership-winning coach said.
"We have a lot of young fellas so it will be an enjoyable challenge.”
As for how his side will deal with the shortened season, Foster believes the pressure of less fixtures against quality opposition will be a valuable lesson for his team.
“I am excited for a shortened year. It will be a big learning curve for a lot of players as a lot of my boys are young," he said.
"It will be one of the toughest A Grade competitions, with the calibre of player filtering into the competition.
“The boys are hungry to play. I am expecting a little bit of rust but they certainly have the willingness to compete and their desire and effort is right up there."
In such unprecedented times, both sides will be fielding inexperienced teams when they meet, with recruitment and retention made difficult during a turbulent pre-season.
Burleigh will have plenty of young talent running out this weekend, but Foster said he is excited by what they bring to the team.
“Out of the 18 guys I have this week, the average age is 21, nine of which are still under 20s eligible or were eligible to play 20s last year," Foster said.
"With youth comes eagerness, but they’ll give it a good crack.
“We do have some older heads there still, to steer the ship."
Southport will also have plenty of fresh faces when they run out for the first time in 2020, with only four players remaining from the squad that went down to Burleigh in last year's big dance.
They are bolstered by the return of several Southport juniors such as Brock Hamill from Canterbury who will line up in the second row while Tweed Intrust Super Cup captain Lamar Liolevave will also pull on the Tigers jersey.
Coach Steve Dowd is just happy to see his side back playing footy and hopes they can continue to build on each performance throughout the year.
“It will be good, I am just happy to see that everyone is back playing, from the Under 6s to A Grade – you don’t know how much you miss footy until you can’t play it for a few months” the Tigers coach said.
“I need effort, and we will take each week as it comes.
"It is usually a Melbourne Cup, with 18 plus rounds, but now it’s a Golden Slipper.
We will play Round 1 and grow from there.”
The clash will be RLGC's match of the round and broadcast live on the Rugby League Gold Coast Facebook page from 4pm.
QTOP Cup Round 1
|4pm Saturday, August 1||Burleigh Bears v Southport Tigers||Pizzey Park, Burleigh|
|3pm Sunday, August 2||Runaway Bay Seagulls v Mudgeeraba Redbacks||Bycroft Oval, Runaway Bay|
|3pm Sunday, August 2||Tugun Seahawks v Ormeau Shearers||Boyd Street, Tugun|