Victoria is confident of making an immediate impression when they end a four-year absence and return to the NSWRL next season in a move that reflects the strengths of the competitions.
In a major boost for both Jersey Flegg (under 20s) and SG Ball (under 18s), the Victoria Thunderbolts will field teams that will showcase the best emerging Rugby League talent in Australia.
“The inclusion of the Victoria Thunderbolts for the 2019 season in our SG Ball and Jersey Flegg competitions not only strengthens the competitions but also reinforces their reputation as the most appropriate avenue to develop talent,” said NSWRL Football General Manager Barrie-Jon Mather.
“We’re looking forward to seeing a strong Victorian side and I’m sure the NSW-based teams are looking forward to testing themselves against new opposition.”
The last time a Victorian team was represented in the NSWRL was in 2014, when the Melbourne Storm fielded sides in both the SG Ball and Harold Matthews (under 16s) competitions. The Storm finished eighth and 17th in both competitions respectively.
From 2015 to 2017, NRL Victoria has played in QRL-based competitions before undergoing a name change and playing as the Thunderbolts in 2018. The team finished fourth in the Hastings Deering Colts (under 20s) and eighth in the Mal Meninga Cup (under 18s).
NRL VIC Pathways and Coaching Manager Ryan Walker said they were looking forward to returning to the NSWRL and testing themselves against the best players in the state.
“When we were involved in 2014 our teams were competitive,” Walker said.
“Since then our local kids and our pathways have got stronger and we’re coming off strong performances in the QRL competitions.
“We’re looking forward to seeing where we’re at now and it’s exciting that we can challenge ourselves against the best players in NSW.
“I’m confident that they’ll give a good account of themselves and hopefully put the Thunderbolts on the map in NSW.”
Walker said the decision was made to return to the NSWRL for logistical and commercial reasons, and the success of Melbourne Storm in the NRL had made an impact in Victoria with most of their players now home-grown products.
“We’ve been competing against teams from NSW and Queensland from under-14s, and we’re seeing our local Victorian players now being successful,” Walker said.
“Our SG Ball squad will be close to 100 per cent locals.
“It’s pleasing to know they’re basically all Victorian pathway players who have competed against the best teams in Queensland, and we’re excited now to do that against the Sydney-based NRL clubs as well.”