Enjoy the moment.
Rams coach Kurt Hancock is urging his prodigiously talented Western side to embrace favouritism and appreciate the opportunity to play in such a big game ahead of Saturday’s Andrew Johns Cup final at Glen Willow, Mudgee.
Western has raced through the under 16s country championship to date, recording an undefeated southern pool campaign before qualifying for the decider courtesy of a 40-16 semi-final win over Northern Rivers, although the Rams’ start to the sudden death clash was a tad shaky.
Still, the Rams will head into the weekend’s grand final as undeniable favourites having already beaten their opponents, the Illawarra South Coast Dragons, during the group stage of the championship.
It’s a fact not lost on Hancock, not in the slightest.
So, instead of being frightened of crumbling under the pressure, the championship-winning mentor is recommending his side lap it up and trust they’ve done enough hard work to have earned such a tag.
“I’ve rung all the boys and I’ve been a touch nervous, but we have been the most consistent side in either pool and we have to embrace it to mentally gear us up and play well on the weekend,” he said.
“It’ll come down to whichever side handles the day better. The team that loses often creates a bit of doubt and fear in the lead-up, that’s all part of the imagination.
“And at this age, what kid doesn’t dream of scoring the winning try in a grand final?
“But if we make sure we believe in the hard work we’ve put in and believe in each other, we’ll go out and have some fun, enjoy the day and enjoy the moment.”
Hancock says starting Saturday’s decider will be key.
Especially in the wake of last week’s uncharacteristically sluggish opening for the Rams, one where they dipped to 10-4 down before racing in three tries in eight minutes to end the opening half up 20-10.
“We’ve got to get that start right. If we do that, we should be good,” Hancock added.
Western went into camp at Mudgee on Friday and a video session coupled with a tough ball work run 24 hours out from the decider should, Hancock says, help alleviate any nerves.
A short run on game-day morning will do the same ahead of a third-straight championship final for Western’s under 16s.
Although a lot of this group is about is embarking on a maiden appearance in a grand final.
“And, in a funny way, that sort of defines this group. They’re talented kids but a lot of them come from teams that haven’t had a lot of success … they cherish all of these moments and they work hard for it,” Hancock said.
“It’s about the kids. I’ll just point them in the right direction and give them a few tips along the way.
“It’s all about believing in the hard work they’ve done.”
In a boost for the Rams, Blayney winger Aiden Nunn cleared to play ahead of the grand final after coming off early in Western’s win over Northern Rivers.
Kick-off is at 12pm on Saturday at Glen Willow. Western won last year’s under 16s country championship, a win on Saturday would complete a rare double for the Rams.
- WESTERN: 1 Tyler Colley (Bathurst St Pat’s), 2 Aiden Nunn (Blayney Bears), 3 Noah Ryan (Dubbo St Johns), 4 Mason Pollack (Orange Bloomfield), 5 Cooper Monk (Orange CYMS), 6 Rylee Blackhall (Wellington Cowboys), 7 Noah Griffith (Bathurst Panthers), 8 Harry Sullivan (Oberon Tigers), 9 Josh Dominello (Orange CYMS), 10 Marlin Pollack (Orange Bloomfield), 11 Blake Martin (Bathurst St Pat’s), 12 Jack Hartwig (C) (Red Bend Catholic College), 13 Jack Smith (Red Bend Catholic College); Bench: 14 Elijah Colliss (Wellington Cowboys), 15 Charlie Holman (Bourke Warriors), 16 Thomas Phillips (Red Bend Catholic College), 17 Cody Crisp (Parkes Spaceman), 18 Jayden Fisher (Bathurst St Pat’s).