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SG Ball Cup finals | Six players to watch

Over the next three weekends the six top teams from the UNE SG Ball Cup will battle it out to see who survives for Grand Final day (29 April). 

Here are six players from the top-six finalists, who could play a decisive role in getting their team to the 2023 season decider. 

1.      Canberra Raiders – Sam Gash, fullback-wing

The Raiders came through the season with the perfect home record (4-0) and only lost one away game to the Illawarra Steelers. They top-tailed their year conceding no points in Round One (Melbourne Storm 66-0) or in Round Nine (Balmain Tigers 28-0).

Scoring 58 tries over nine games gave them an average of six tries per game, with two players who shared the No.1 position – Chevy Stewart and Sam Gash - scoring 11 of those between them. Gash also kicked 30 goals. Hooker Owen Pattie scored six tries and was one of the driving forces in the Raiders having the best defensive record in the competition.

2.      Penrith Panthers – Luron Patea, prop

Like the Raiders, the Panthers were the only other side to lose just once (Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles 26-24) during the nine rounds, which set a solid foundation for their 2022 premiership defence.

Half Riley Pollard kept the Panthers scoreboard ticking over with 33 goals alongside his four tries, but one of the real stars was prop Luron Patea scoring tries in six of the nine matches – twice with a double – for eight in total.

3.      Newcastle Knights – Ethan Ferguson, centre

The Knights had another top-three finish in 2023. They had six wins but were undefeated in eight matches, if you add in the two draws with Western Suburbs Magpies (32-all) and the Sydney Roosters (36-all). Their only loss for the year was the Panthers (Round Two).

Fletcher Sharpe scored a try in the Knights’ Jersey Flegg Cup Grand Final in 2022 and is back in the No.1 jersey for the club’s 2023 SG Ball side where he has scored 12 tries including two hat-tricks. Centre Ethan Ferguson not only matched him for tries but with also scored 82 points from the boot (42 goals).

4.      Parramatta Eels – Ethan Sanders, halfback

The Eels worked hard to turn around their eleventh-placed finish in 2022 to fourth this year. They mustered seven wins – four straight off the bat (Rounds 1-4).

Points were evenly shared among the players, but when Ethan Sanders took over the goalkicking from Joshua Lynn in Round Three he accelerated the Eels scoreboard with 25 goals and three tries over six weeks. A standout over the first five rounds was winger Cody Parry, who scored 10 tries, but he was well supported by hooker Matthew Arthur crossing four times in the opening four games.

5.      Western Suburbs Magpies – Tallyn Da Silver, hooker

Another in the big-improver stakes was the Magpies rocketing up from 12th last year to play finals 12 months on. They scored over 100 points (108) in their opening three games, while conceding 32.

Hooker Tallyn Da Silva (pictured above) was on the score sheet in eight of the nine matches, after scoring nine tries, while five-eighth Lachlan Gavin tallied eight. Second rower Zakauri Clarke not only landed 32 goals, but also scored four tries.  

6.      Sydney Roosters – Cassius Tia, five-eighth

The Roosters finished on top of the table in 2022, only to lose a close Grand Final (22-20) to the Panthers. They meant business in 2023 registering the best attack (380 points) after scoring more than 45 points in five of their nine matches.

Two draws (24-all Illawarra, 36-all Newcastle) kept them down the ladder, as wins in both of those games would have put them at No.1 due to their superior for-and-against.

Winger Kade Maguire certainly helped in attack with 11 tries, but halves Haydan Ritchie and Cassius Tia were a dynamite partnership after scoring 12 tries between them. Tia took over the goal-kicking duties in Round Three and booted 45 from seven games.

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