I’ve really enjoyed my first season back in Australia playing for Wyong in the VB NSW Cup after a stint in England. I feel like the NSW Cup is starting to recapture its true purpose as the main stepping stone to the NRL – and I reckon the competition is continuing to improve after it almost played second fiddle to the under-20s for a brief period.
The 2014 NSW Cup finals series should be incredibly exciting for fans and players alike – and I for one don’t believe the Panthers are home and hosed despite finishing as clear-cut minor premiers. They’ve been great all year as the final table reflects but the question remains: have they peaked too early? It also remains to be seen if their NRL coach, Ivan Cleary, calls on some of their players to step up to first grade in the weeks ahead.
At Wyong with my team, the Roos, we’ve done well to get to the finals – it’s a tough ask for stand-alone clubs without the backing of NRL outfits. We’ll give the finals a good crack – we’ve been consistent throughout the year and really bonded across the season. I reckon that holds us in pretty good stead.
The Knights are a great chance of giving the competition a huge shake. They’re my tip to cause a lot of damage in the playoffs as they have great strength across their entire squad. In the matches we’ve played against them this year, once it was their fullback Nathan Ross who caused all the damage while in the other clash it was Michael Dobson’s kicking game that caused headaches. Newcastle certainly have plenty of threats across the park.
Wenty are another team with a strong chance of causing sides plenty of problems. They have a lot of great talent on their books because of their close ties with the Eels. Luke Kelly is their general – he’s probably the key man and indicator to how they’ll go in their finals match-ups. Their entire side, though, is pretty strong – and their backs know how to sniff-out the tryline.
They’re not the only players who’ll have a big impact on the finals, though. I reckon half-a-dozen or so rising stars will make or break the NSW Cup playoffs this season. Knights utility Tyler Randell has just played his first game in the NRL and will be a big boost for his side. Team-mate Pat Mata’utia is much the same. Warriors back-rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner is one to watch as is recent NRL debutant, Panthers hooker Kierran Moseley. Cutters Kiti Glymin and Tyron Cranston and my team-mate Tekina Vailea, who is pretty strong with good feet, are great prospects too. Another of my Roos mates, front-rower Magnus Stromquist, an Aiden Tolman-type player and our rock this season, will also be hard to stop.
I believe each of these players is going to star in the NRL in the not-too-distant future. The best thing is we get to see their development now in this year’s VB NSW Cup finals series. I can’t wait. May the best team win… and hopefully that’s us!
This column appears in the September 6-7 edition of Rugby League News magazine.