They’ve had a taste of first grade this season, but now former Kyogle rugby league juniors Will Matthews and Shannon Walker have a new goal — success in the Toyota Cup finals.
While the Jetstar Gold Coast Titans may be absent from the NRL finals series, the future looks in safe hands following the success of the club’s juniors this season.
The Titans’ NYC under-20s side will contest the finals of the Toyota Cup in Sydney on Saturday night after qualifying in eighth spot on the ladder with 13 wins from 24 matches in the competition’s inaugural season.
It follows on from the success of the club’s SG Ball team (under-18), which also tasted finals football after finishing in eighth spot competing against some of the game’s most established rugby league clubs.
In a further boost for the future, the Titans have a major presence in the Palm Beach Currumbin High School side which will contest the finals of the Arrive Alive Cup schoolboy competition in Sydney tomorrow night.
Of the 17 members who will take the field for PBC against Illawarra Sports High, 14 players are either contracted with the Titans or trialling with the club.
Titans managing director Michael Searle said the achievements of the NYC and SG Ball sides was an encouraging sign for the future of the club given it was the first time the Titans had fielded sides in any elite junior competitions.
“It is a major achievement to have both of our junior sides involved in finals football this season,” said Searle.
“The fact that many of these young players are home-grown speaks volumes about the talent from the Gold Coast and Northern Rivers regions and also our development system.
“The introduction of our Junior Pathways program next season for under-13 and under-14s players will aim to ensure that Titans juniors are given the best chance to progress through to NRL level.’’
The achievements of the club’s rising stars have not gone unrewarded either, with five of the players picked in the NYC squad for this weekend’s finals match against Canberra having already made their NRL debuts.
They include Will Matthews, Esi Tonga, Jordan Rapana, Shannon Walker and 16-year-old Jordan Rankin.
Titans NYC coach Steve Murphy said the performances of both the under-20s and under-18s squads had in-fact exceeded expectations in their inaugural season.
“It’s wonderful. The best part about this year was we didn’t have any major expectations in either grade,’’ said Murphy.
“We sat down and said if we can win five or six games in SG Ball and NYC this year we’ll be doing okay.
“I was distraught after a couple of losses earlier in the season and Carty (Titans coach John Cartwright) had that conversation with me, saying: ‘Look, don’t worry about it, we’re building for the future not worrying about results this season.’’
The Titans’ NYC side takes on Canberra at Toyota Park in Sydney on Saturday night at 4.15pm.