Finishing as last season’s NSW Cup minor premiers, Mounties’ finals campaign came to a bitter end after falling at the final hurdle in the preliminary final.
In a major upset loss to the eventual premiers – the Newcastle Knights (see video above) – Mounties missed out on their place on the big stage but are hoping they can earn another shot at the elusive title.
Under the steady hand of coach Steve Antonelli, Mounties exploded out of the blocks to win their first seven games last season and sit atop the competition to win the minor premiership.
There’s plenty of opportunity to watch them early too as they feature prominently in the FOX Sports' Match of the Round for their first four matches – and six of the first seven matches televised live.
Off-season focus: Mounties will look for another hot start in 2016, enjoying three of their opening four games at home. But it won’t be an easy task with a mainly new-look team on the cards this season. Antonelli says defence remains a priority, particularly with the reduced interchange coming into effect. It’s sure to result in a more open-spaced game, and it’s imperative to avoid fatigue.
Biggest gain: Antonelli believes it will take a total team effort with an entirely different team in 2016. The team will be made up largely from their Ron Massey and Sydney Shield sides but the addition of Manaia Rudolph will be a huge boost to their backline.
Biggest loss: With a large turnover in the offseason, Antonelli understands it’s just part of the role. 2015’s minor premiers have lost both halves in Mitch Cornish and Josh McCrone, plus Jeremy Hawkins, David Shillington, Mark Nicholls and Bill Tupou. “They're all a loss,” Antonelli said. “But in footy, one goes, another comes in, and that's my job as NSW Cup coach to make sure I make them ready and playing their best footy.”
Coach Antonelli says: “It's a new season and new start with a different side. It's everyone's goal to make the grand final. It's a new team so hopefully we gel early and quickly so we can have another good start similar to last season which is important in the NSW Cup. We have to make sure we start well - that's our goal. We're looking forward to it. Everyone's ready and we've had off the offseason - we're ready to get into it.”
Future star: Last season’s NSW Cup Player of the Year, Mitch Barnett, was a human headline across the offseason, with his contract dispute eventually resolved. You can be sure Barnett will demonstrate what all the fuss was for. Brenko Lee is also on the cards for a monster season. The gifted athlete is determined to make the next step and play in the NRL.
Our prediction: With such a different-looking team to the one that powered through last season, it’s hard to predict a similar finish in 2016. Losing both halves hurts any side let alone one that came within one match of the grand final. However, like last season, nobody gave Mounties much hope before they established themselves as major contenders. With Antonelli at the helm, finals are definitely not out of the question but a good start and gelling early is vital for their prospects.
Comings and goings
Gains: Manaia Rudolph (Manly Sea Eagles)
Losses: Mitch Cornish (Parramatta Eels), Josh McCrone (St. George-Illawarra Dragons), Jeremy Hawkins, Mark Nicholls (Melbourne Storm), David Shillington (Gold Coast Titans), Bill Tupou (Wakefield), Jack Ahearn (Redcliffe Dolphins), Joel Edwards (Wests Tigers), Patrick Mago (Mackay Cutters)