Three huge NSWRL Junior Representative Grand Finals are set to see the competition off with a bang at Leichhardt today, as six proud clubs line up for their slice of history. With the Knights taking on the Sea Eagles in the Harold Matthews, followed by the Bulldogs and Panthers in the Tarsha Gale Cup and the Sharks and Eels in the SG Ball, the scene is set for an historic day at Leichhardt Oval.
Harold Matthews Cup Grand Final
Newcastle Knights v Manly Sea Eagles
Leichhardt Oval, Saturday 6 May
An historic rivalry enters another chapter today as these traditional foes and 1997 ARL Grand Final combatants face each other in the day's opening game. In a first v fifth battle, however, it is clear which side has earned the favouritism.
The Knights have travelled throughout season 2017 smoothly and are yet to taste defeat under coach Mark Morrissey this year; taking out the minor premiership with an outright lead and a huge points differential, it has been clear from the outside that this side knows how to pile on the points and they now average 45.5 per game in 2017. With Max Buderus, nephew of NSW True Blue Danny Buderus steering the team around at five-eighth, much of their spark in attack comes from fullback Bradman Best and winger Malie-J Townsend. Their skipper is lock Jaron Purcell and all in all they have a well-balanced team - but must ensure they approach this game the same way they have their previous eight of the season.
The Manly side, meanwhile, are known firstly for two names which most Rugby League and Sea Eagles fans will recognise: Albert Hopoate, son of John and brother of Will and Jamil, and Ben Trbojevic, brother of Tom and Jake, are two stars in the making having been involved in the NSWRL Pathways program already. NSWRL.com.au chatted with both players prior to the season, but they've since gone on to help their side to an unlikely grand final berth.
Coming from fifth position, the Sea Eagles have had to come up with two upsets to progress to the decider and have done so via a 46-6 thrashing of the fourth-placed Steelers and narrow 30-24 win over the third-placed Eels last week. They will have to lift yet another level, of course, to down the minor premiers, with captain Josh Schuster, halfback Daniel Ala and five-eighth Kaeo Weekes all key to their hopes of victory.
It's sure to be a big start to Junior Reps Grand Final Day, with plenty of points on offer at Leichhardt Oval.