AFTER a sensational season on the field, it all comes down to this Saturday for Glenn Buffolin’s Illawarra South Coast Dragons.
Following last weekend’s thrilling 18-14 extra-time victory against the Newcastle Rebels in the under 16s CRL Country Championships semi-final at Dubbo, all eyes are firmly set on the Andrew Johns Cup decider in Mudgee.
“Last weekend, we were going well, being up 14-4, but some lapses in defence cost us and brought Newcastle back int the game,” Buffolin said.
“Defence has been one of our strong points this season, so it was a little disappointing to have Newcastle come back into the match that way.
“But to the boys credit, they stood up when it counted most and got back to doing things that have made us so successful this season.”
As Buffolin eluded to, it has been a solid year for the Dragons in the park – under the new strengthened format of the country championships.
"At the start of our campaign, our target was to make the semi-finals,” he said.
“We didn’t put an emphasis too much of games won and lost – rather just concentrating on improving each week.
“As we met our first target of making the semi-finals, we all agreed to push on and try and go one step further – which we did.
“This success can be credited to the boys desire to work hard for each other, while constantly improving as individuals and as a group.
“The most pleasing thing is that the boys, because they’ve all played against one another in the past, have come together so well and don’t want to let each other down.”
Buffolin, who coached the Greater Southern Stingrays for three seasons in the old format, admits this new approach has seen any regional barriers broken down – leading to more high quality football.
While Buffolin acknowledges that Joshua Turla, Jye Patterson and Giovanni Nasseu have been standouts, every single players deserves recognition for helping the team get to the final.
“Each game, we try and get everyone to play up to a rating of seven out of 10,” he said.
“Obviously, we know some weeks, some people might have an off week but if that’s the case, the guys each side of that player step up and make up the difference – which is why this group is so special.”
The Dragons opponents at the Glen Willow Regional Sports Complex from 12pm, the Western Rams, got the better of Buffolin’s troops on the earlier meeting this season, but the coach is going to use that 30-26 loss to his side’s advantage.
“The loss earlier in the season went down to the last minute and could have gone either way,” he said.
“This time around, we will know what to expect from them.
“To ensure we win though, we must improve the way we play the game from last week – we must get to our sets, complete well and play fatigue football to the best of our ability.
“If we were to win on Saturday, it would be just reward for all the boys, who have worked hard and challenged each other every single session.
“It’s great to see that their work has paid off – I can’t wait until Saturday.”
Group Seven products included in Buffolin’s squad are Kiama’s William Webb and Ethan O’Connell, Albion Park-Oak Flats’ Jordan Morn, Logan Stubbs and Liam Lynch, Shellharbour’s Cooper Askew and Milton-Ulladulla’s Jarred Hendrie, Luke Millard and Bailey Tooth.
Under 16s Dragons squad: 1. Jye Patterson (Thirroul), 2. Alex Lobb (Western Suburbs), 3. Jordan Morn © (Albion Park-Oak Flats), 4. Blake Wellington (Thirrioul) , 5. Bailey Tooth (Milton-Ulladulla), 6. Jordan Wolhar (Dapto), 7. Issac Morris (Collegians), 8. Ben Byron (Collegians), 9. Giovanni Nasseu (Western Suburbs), 10. Braith Lawrence-Foye (Western Suburbs), 11. Ethan O’Connell (Kiama), 12. Liam Lynch (Albion Park-Oak Flats), 13. Joshua Turla (Western Suburbs), 14. Luke Millard (Milton-Ulladulla), 15. Jack Owens (Dapto) , 16. William Webb (Kiama), 17. Jarred Hendrie (Milton-Ulladulla) and 18. Cooper Askew (Shellharbour) – with Glen Buffolin as coach.