Saints u16s Boys Return to the Eels Cup Grand Final
The MacKillop Saints u16s Boys team overcame both the opposition and the hot weather yesterday at TRL Stadium to book their third successive place in the Eels Cup Grand Final. The Eels Cup is the Territory’s own version of State Championship Schools Rugby League, with the Grand Final fixture to be played as the curtain raiser event to the Eels vs Cowboys NRL match later this month. Following yesterday’s success, our boys team will join our u16s Girls side who will also appear in the Grand Final of the ladies competition.
Saints opened the qualifying tournament with a battle against crosstown rivals, Palmerston College. Ball security was an issue in the opening sets as MacKillop were unable to get to their kick on each of their first four attacking sets due to handling errors. Halves, Jack Miller and Kye Ryan, were able to steady the ship by orchestrating a tighter attack which lead the team to a 10-0 halftime advantage. Debutant, Cohen Patch, produced a highlight reel try shortly before the halftime siren. Patch out-jumped his opposing winger amidst heavy contact to collect a cross-field bomb before getting up off the grass to race the ball behind the uprights and score. Patch looks to be another player of great potential to come off the MacKillop Saints production line.
The second half of the opening match began in a much tidier fashion with the Saints able to apply pressure early. Jack Miller found an opening beside the ruck to score in the opening sets of the half to extend MacKillop’s lead. Later, livewire dummy half, Harry Heath, found his way to the line for the second of his two tries to seal a 20-0 victory to the men in navy and ochre. With the highly fancied Taminmin A team next up on the draw, Saints enjoyed a small rest break where they were able to check in with another Saints debutant, strapper and trainer, Mrs. Jane Marshall, who did an exceptional job of preparing the team physically for the tournament.
Consensus amongst local schools rugby league pundits pointed towards the Saints vs Taminmin A battle as the match of the tournament. This notion probably manifested into reality, as Saints narrowly came away with a 6-4 victory, following a missed conversion by Taminmin A’s kicker after their try on the final play of the match. An Osca Bonar conversion of a Brad Tanner try was all that split these two teams at the end of a tightly contested affair. At one stage, it looked like Taminmin A would score a spectacular long distance try by exploiting an overlap on the Saints right edge. Fullback, Ryan S, who had an amazing tournament in his own right, came through in cover defence to drag the Red Claws’ player into touch.
Ending the pool rounds undefeated, MacKillop set up a qualifying finals match against Katherine High School who finished second in the Pool B draw. The Saints came into this match as favourites but didn’t have an easy time against a much larger opposition. Perhaps this was due to tiredness and perhaps even due to a little complacency. Captain, Koen Hughes, beat several opposition defenders to score in almost the same position as Jack Miller did in the opening game in what would be the only points of the contest. A string of penalties and handling errors late in the second half almost allowed Katherine High to sneak a late victory, but resolute team goal line defence from the Saints prevented this from happening. With relief, the fulltime siren sounded and the celebrations began as the team were now assured of a position in the grand final.
In any undefeated tournament, it is a comprehensive team effort with strong performances from all players that produces such a result. This tournament was no different. When team coach, Matthew Sharp, was asked to identify a sample of standout players, he pointed toward his notebook which had 7 or 8 names listed as MVP candidates. It was lock, Alfred Walker, however, who was voted in as MVP by his peers for the tournament. Alfred was influential in both attack and defence across all games. Although Walker won the award, others whose names mentioned highly included Harry Heath, firebrand prop forward, David Stevens, and halfback, Kye Ryan.
The undisputed people’s champion of the tournament was another debutant, interchange prop forward, Jayden Lih. Lih made the tough runs and never backed down in defence, as if he were a player with many games of experience. With growing confidence, expect to see him continue to develop as a player of great potential. Another to impress was utility player, Nathaniel Brown, who was consistent in all matches. Brown, who sometimes finds himself out on the edges, was asked to step up into starting prop following the withdrawal of starter, Anthony McMah, earlier in the week. The versatile, Brown, did so without hesitation for the benefit of the team and delivered a series of classy performances.
The Grand Final of the Eels Cup will be played at TIO Stadium on the 30th of April 2022. Information will be released about scheduling and ticket arrangements for all players in due course. We wish our boys and girls teams all the very best of luck in preparation for their matches.
Kent Brockman – Investigative Sports Journalist