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Tom Giles is embracing the challenge of coaching the Young Cherrypickers in the Group 9 competition.

The Tricolours are backed by one of the more parochial fan bases in country Rugby League, who have been chasing premiership glory since 1991. Although it’s been a long time between drinks, the Cherrypickers have remained competitive during those years.

As recently as 2022, they qualified for the Grand Final, but the Nick Cornish-coached outfit fell to a dominant Gundagai Tigers side 34-4.

Two seasons on, 22-year-old front rower Tom Giles has been charged with leading a star-studded side.

Boasting a good mix of locals and imports, Young has been close to perfect in the opening six rounds, winning five on the trot following their opening round 28-all draw with the South City Bulls.

They have turned it on in attack, scoring a competition-leading 192 points, and Giles has led the way.

A mountain of a man, the former South Sydney Rabbitohs’ NSW Cup player has crossed for seven tries, which has him second on the Group 9 try-scoring list – just one behind Temora’s Joel Kelly.

He is difficult to bring down and plays with vigour and intelligence. What's intimidating is that Giles plays in a powerhouse engine room that includes Jake Walker, Jayke Hogan, and Aaron Slater.

When push comes to shove, Young has big men who can play even bigger minutes, which has been the secret to success when looking at recent premiers Tumut and Gundagai.

“If you asked other captain/coaches, 95% of them would tell you we have the biggest and most powerful middle,” Giles said.

“People know it, and that’s what I did when recruiting; we wanted big guys, and that’s what we’ve got.

“Plus, we’ve got a middle that can get through a lot of work and play big minutes.”

Young has been impressive, and what is an ominous sign for their rivals is that Giles believes they have not come close to turning in an 80-minute performance.

“We got off to a pretty average start with a draw against South City, and since then, we’ve found ways to win, but we haven't really had our full side yet,” Giles said.

“Still, we’re ticking along nicely, and in some games, we’ve been good defensively and in others, we’ve been good with our attack, but we haven’t put a full game together, and that’s what’s been impressive.”

The Cherrypickers have made big statements in recent weeks, knocking off competition heavyweights, Gundagai and Albury.

Against the Tigers, Young won a physical contest 20-6 at Alfred Park before breezing past the Thunder in Albury, winning 44-16 at Greenfield Park on Saturday.

“I was really happy against Gundagai; we bashed them out of the game, and on the weekend, we had the hardest road trip in Group 9 and put 40 past Albury,” Giles said.

The Young captain/coach has done an outstanding job leading the Cherrypickers, and while he’s only a pup, he said it helped when calling upon a good support network.

“I’m turning 23 this year, and coming into last year, I was just playing, but there was the opportunity to coach, and it’s been exciting,” Giles said.

“There’s a bit of pressure, and Young hasn’t won (a premiership) in a fair while, but all the boys have bought in and have helped me along.

“I’m only the coach, and heaps of people are helping me out, and I’m lucky to have a solid group of boys behind me.”

Giles personifies leading by example and is currently third in the Eric Weissel Medal voting, earning nine points in three appearances.

He trails South City stalwart Kyle ‘Doc’ McCarthy (12) and Temora forward Hadyn Philp (10), while rounding out the top-six is Brothers hooker Blake Mindipi (7), Kangaroos enforcer Hayden Joliffe (6), and Albury backrower Isaac Carpenter (6).

“All that talk is outside noise,” Giles said.

“It’s the first time I’ve thought about it, and I’m not in it for awards; every bloke that plays wants to win for their team.

“I’d rather Doc (McCarthy) win it and we win the competition.”

With Young on the bye this weekend, the Cherrypickers are preparing for their two biggest games of the season.

On June 1, they play Wagga Kangaroos at McDonald’s Park before a huge Round Nine fixture against the Temora Dragons at Alfred Oval on June 15.

“If you look at the ladder and who we have played, they are the bottom sides, but they can beat anyone any day,” Giles said.

“This comp is so close, and we’re taking it week by week.

“We’ve got the bye this week, so we’ll freshen up and ramp it up later in the week before a big run of games.

“We’ve got Rosey (Nathan Rose) and his side in Wagga before a big day at home, where we take on Temora after the long weekend, and if we knock off those two teams, we’re in a good position heading into the second half of the season.”

This weekend, the blockbuster match is between the second-placed Temora Dragons and third-placed Wagga Kangaroos at Nixon Park.

In other Round Seven fixtures, Tumut and Gundagai continue their longstanding rivalry, with the Blues hosting the Tigers at Twickenham on Saturday.

On Sunday, Junee and Albury are both looking to bounce back at Laurie Daley Oval, while the South City Bulls can continue their charge up the ladder when taking on Wagga rivals, Brothers, at McDonald’s Park.

Click here for all Group 9 ladders, draws, and results.

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