The best up-and-coming Under-18 talents take centre stage this weekend, as the 2018 edition of the SG Ball Cup gets underway across the country.
The 2017 SG Ball Cup Premiers and National Champions the Parramatta Eels kick-off the new season, opening their account with a trip to Perth to face the West Coast Pirates in the competition’s first match.
Old rivals the Roosters and the Bulldogs meet in an opening-round blockbuster as action returns to Henson Park for the first time in 2018, while the perennially successful Panthers play host to the Balmain Tigers at the foot of the mountains.
Elsewhere, 2017 Grand Finalists Cronulla round out a double-header of junior representatives matches in the Shire on Saturday, in their clash with the Central Coast Roosters at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
The NSWRL Under-18 junior representative competition was tightly-contested in 2017 with only one win separating minor premiers Cronulla and sixth-placed Western Suburbs at the conclusion of the regular season.
Competition front-runners Parramatta, Cronulla, Canterbury, and Penrith all claimed opening-round victories. Those four teams would only concede one match each throughout the entire regular season, before Canterbury and Penrith went out in straight sets in the finals series.
Parramatta and Cronulla came into the finals series with plenty of confidence after recording the two biggest respective victories late in the regular season. The Eels registered a 96-0 win over West Coast in Round 9 while the Sharks won 78-0 against the same opposition just two weeks prior.
It came as no surprise that they would meet in the Grand Final. Parramatta’s fast start set the foundation for a fantastic 2017 SG Ball Cup Grand Final victory, with NSW Under-18 Origin winger Ethan Parry picking up an important hat-trick to earn his side a 30-22 win.
The Eels backed that up at the Under-18 National Junior Final with a commanding 48-12 victory over their Queensland counterparts, the Western Mustangs, 48-12. Parry starred once again with another three tries and was judged best-on-ground.
The dominance of Parramatta – particularly after winning the Harold Matthews Cup in 2016 - capped off another exciting junior representative season that saw the development of a significant amount of young talent hoping to one day excel in the senior grades.
Players To Watch: Mateo Tatola (Canterbury Bulldogs), Franklin Pele, Bronson Xerri (Cronulla Sharks), Max Feagai, Mathew Feagai (Illawarra Steelers), Josh Schuster, Max Lehmann, Albert Hopoate (Manly Sea Eagles), Jaron Purcell, Phoenix Crossland, Bradman Best (Newcastle Knights), Sam Hughes, Stefano Utoikamanu, Tyler Field, Kyle Schneider, John Paul Nohra (Parramatta Eels), Shawn Blore, Lindsay Smith (Penrith Panthers), Duwayne Fuimaono, Egan Butcher (Sydney Roosters).
The SG Ball draw has changed - click here for the latest.
You can follow all SG Ball Cup matches on the NSWRL Live Match Centre.