It’s a feat that hasn’t been achieved in 22 years, but Mounties have finally written their names into the history books; with teams represented in all three NSWRL senior competitions, the club from Mount Pritchard has the opportunity to achieve Sydney Shield, Ron Massey Cup and Intrust Super Premiership NSW supremacy.
Not since the St George Dragons in 1980 has a club appeared in three NSWRL deciders, but in 2016 it is arguably even more difficult to achieve; while the top NSWRL grade used to be the most elite competition in Rugby League, the NRL now applies even more pressure on the divisions below it. Given that the Canberra Raiders have also advanced to the Preliminary Final in that competition, the system has been working perfectly in 2016. Rather than be surprised at his club’s success, however, Intrust Super Premiership NSW coach Steve Antonelli explains that an expectation of success has driven the outcome.
“I’m happy for the club, that’s been our goal from the start of the year – to be at our best,” Antonelli told NSWRL.com.au. “To have three teams in the Grand Finals is great for the club.”
Having joined forces ahead of the 2012 season, the Raiders-Mounties partnership at first raised a few eyebrows in Rugby League circles; the Mounties club, based in the South West Sydney suburb of Mount Pritchard, has long been a proud supporter of Rugby League at all levels, but is based 250km up the Hume Highway from its NRL partner.
The trip, however, is something that staff and players have long got used to, as Antonelli’s Grand Final week plan would indicate: “I go back to Canberra today, most of the Canberra boys are in Canberra,” the coach said, speaking at the NSWRL Captain’s Call at Parramatta’s Pirtek Stadium. “Then I come back (to Sydney), train the Mounties boys and come together for maybe 40 minutes max at the back end of the week.”
The partnership took some time to bear fruit, with the Intrust Super Premiership NSW side missing the finals in 2012 and 2013. A sixth-place finish came the following season, before back-to-back minor premierships in 2015 and 2016. The Ron Massey Cup outfit, meanwhile, have now made The Big Dance four years in a row – including a maiden premiership in the competition last year – and coach Mark Speechley also puts the success down to the Canberra partnership.
“Everything from there happens from up the top and comes straight through from Steve, down to me, down to the boys in (Sydney) Shield, all the way through,” Speechley explained. “All the players get on board and there’s a pathway there as well, some of them like Priesty (Clay Priest, who has risen from the Ron Massey Cup to the NRL) this year went up and just everyone’s excited about the club.
“I’m just proud of the whole club, the way it is, the way it’s set up… I just love everything about it.”
While it is not uncommon for NRL clubs to have two or more feeder clubs below them in the senior grades, the Raiders are fortunate to have a single and direct line of communication running from top to bottom. At the Sydney Shield level, too, co-coach Gary Burgess is appreciative of the direct instruction he receives from Antonelli and Raiders head coach Ricky Stuart.
“We just get our instructions off our head coach Steve Antonelli and just roll through the program and go from there,” Burgess explained. “It’s an outstanding effort from Steve Antonelli and (Football Manager) Steve Litvensky, they’ve done a great job. It’s all based on them, not us – we’re just the ones that follow.”
At all levels, the large team of coaching staff will be focused on the basics this week as they approach NSWRL Grand Final Day; all three teams were dominant enough to take the Minor Premiership in their respective competitions, so it will mostly be a mental battle to continue the form for one more week. Speechley understands the pressure of expectation that has now been heaped on the club, but believes his players are up for the challenge.
“Pressure on the whole club? Yeah, maybe a little bit,” Speechley admitted. “But everyone’s excited about it and enjoying it, so it’ll be good.”
Witness history this September at the 2016 NSWRL Grand Final Day. On Sunday, 25 September the Intrust Super Premiership NSW decider, along with the Ron Massey Cup and Sydney Shield Grand Finals, take place at Pirtek Stadium, with tickets just $10 for adults and kids under 12 free. Click here to secure your seat.