The Harold Matthews Cup season is just around the corner with future NRL talent everywhere. Newscorp will preview every club ahead of the new year, continuing with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
THE brightest young talents and superstars of tomorrow are set to showcase their skills once again we approach the start of the Harold Matthews Cup season.
The U17s NSWRL season kicks off on February 4 with so many storylines set to play out.
Which NRL contracted stars will shine the brightest? Will Penrith’s rugby league dominance extend to the U17s in 2023? Will there be a new contender to the throne?
All of those questions will be revealed as we progressively preview all 15 clubs ahead of the new season, with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
Captains: Daniel Lua and Braethen Bilich
Coach: Luke Deller
Players to watch: “Daniel Lua was our player of the year as a young lock forward last year. He’s from Newington, is smart and well mannered, and more a leader by his actions. We’re expecting him to progress further. Braethen Bilich is Souths Juniors through and through, can play in the fullback or halves, and is quite a good leader in terms of communication.
Matthew Humphries played halfback for the Central Coast in Harold Matts last year and has an older head for his age. He’s very calm, nothing phases him and he’s good at organising the team. Tamoko Berryman is a second rower who is new to the system this year from Manly and someone we ID’d to boost us up a bit.”
Surprise packet: “Charlie Poynton comes from Manly and played at the national level for rugby union. The fact he played a different code at a high level and has been able to adapt and was one of our most impressive in the trials. We were’t too sure how Kynan Toeveai would go, but he’s now one of the first picked.”
Why they will be competitive: “This year we’ve got a lot of guys that are competitive at training. We try and turn training into competitions to get them used to the heat of the battle and what it’s like to win and lose. There’s a good culture among the boys and they’re learning pretty quickly. Our external guys have gelled well and the way they’re playing as a team and displaying mateship, they want to play for each other.”
Last season: 11th
Coach: Aaron McDonald
Players to watch: This is halfback Kade Reed’s second year in Harold Matts, with injury halting his progress last year. He’s been looking good since his return to the side, he’s good at directing the boys on field and has a great presence. Big front rower Zach Taufa who leads by example in the front line. A physically large forward but very skilful as well, also demonstrates great leadership. At 195cm, Tom Kirk is difficult to miss. The rangy and long striding outside back has the strength and athleticism to trouble any defence. Coming from the picturesque south coast haven of Gerringong, Hayden Buchanan is an exciting centre who dominates his edge with dynamic charges and all out physicality. One to keep an eye on, Hayden is another linked to the club long term.
Surprise packet: Winter Harry Wililo is a fairly raw talent but with heaps of potential, with his coach describing him as a potential project player. Very quick but also very big, a great combo for the winger. Thirroul’s Aaymon Fitzgibbon is a livewire five-eighth who has impressed Dragons officials with his on-field presence and control. He is set to form one half of a lethal Steelers playmaking combination.
Why they will be competitive: The team has looked sharp in their first two trials and their third against Canberra on the weekend. There has been gradual improvement to their performances on the park in the time of the preseason. Close losses cost them last year, so if they can cut them out and work on their overall game management then the coach sees the top six and finals footy as an achievable target.
Last season: 8th
Squad: Hudson Bailey, Lucas Borg, Brodie Breakspear, Hayden Buchanan, Dreau Clark, Josiah Clifford, Finn Egan, Joseph Elton, Talitiga Feagai, Aaymon Fitzgibbon, Lachlan Greatz, Charlie Heidke, Ezekiel Kennedy, Tom Kirk, Drew Langdon, Letham Manago, Daniel Meafou, Harry Middleton, Thomas Nelson, Bailey Peschka, Kade Reed, Jett Rorie, Noah Skippen, Jackson Smith, Zechariah Taufa, Zane Timmins, Leeroy Weatherill, Harry Wililo
ST GEORGE DRAGONS
Coach: Frank Pritchard
Players to watch: Finau Latu is a highly touted ball playing middle forward. With leg-speed and mobility, this junior Blue is poised to be one of the stars of competition, before joining the NRL training squad next season.
Another from Brad Fittler’s Junior Blues camp, Jacob Halangahu is a tearaway second-rower who can be counted on to put the opposition on notice with his bullocking carries.
Surprise packet: Cyrus Stanley-Traill is a product from the highly regarded Endeavour Sports High. A hard working prop, the Kogarah Cougars junior will be looked upon to do the dirty work for the Dragons pack. In addition to his enviable grunt, the powerhouse has an uncanny knack for finding the tryline.
Why they will be competitive: Former Panthers and Bulldogs wrecking ball Frank Pritchard has assembled an exciting batch of young talent. Led by a physical pack, with many destined for NRL status, St George will also field a potent backline capable of exploiting dominant field position.
Last season: 10th
Captain: Sam Chapman
Coach: Rourke O’Sullivan
Players to watch: Skipper and playmaker Sam Chapman enters his final season of Harold Matts, and alongside Jonah Anderson will form the nucleus of the Raiders’ brains trust. A Belconnen United Sharks junior, Chapman will be the side’s chief organiser and goal-kicker, while Anderson, a halves product of the Queanbeyan Blues is considered to have an old head on young shoulders with plenty of skill and vision.
Surprise packet: Bega resident Sam Griffin is a skilled edge back-rower who has impressed O’Sullivan over the summer. Blessed with a high workrate, the forward’s ball skills and rugged defence are expected to be a key feature in his first season of Canberra reps.
Why they will be competitive: O’Sullivan still feels the burden of last year’s heartbreaking extra-time semi final exit. Now, with only two players returning from last season’s campaign, the Raiders are somewhat of an unknown quantity. With a fresh squad of boys from far and wide, O’Sullivan is encouraged by the way they have bonded and expects their hard working attitude to shine through. With a big middle and speed and size on the edges, Canberra should cause plenty of headaches.
Last season: Sixth (lost semi-final)
Squad list: Alex Hardy, Andrew Muir, BJ Darmody, Brock Apolevski, Byron Cahill, Callum Rossiter, Cooper Johnston, Emmet Smith, Harry Hudson, Harvey Gay, Jacob Ma’u-Pohiva, James Croker, Jake Cayfe, Jesse Milin, Jonah Anderson, Lachlan Cunanan, Lucas McPherson, Matthew Cox, Mitchell Brophy, Patrick Dawson, Sam Chapman, Sam Griffin, Sam Patmore, Thomas Handsaker, Xanda Georgevski, Zildjian Tafili
CENTRAL COAST ROOSTERS
Captain: Coby Thomas, Sean Bullen, Brendan Couzens, Billy Brown
Coach: Matt Sharman
Players to watch: “Coby Thomas is a second rower who played in the NSWCIS team despite being two years young. He’s a strong player with big expectations on him. Demetris Kilisimasi is a fullback who has come over from New Zealand, along with prop forward Josh Kopua. The two are contracted through the Roosters and have come through the development program.”
Surprise packet: “Josiah Fesolai played prop forward last year but didn’t get much game time in the Andrew Johns Cup. He’s really trimmed down, his skills have improved massively and he’s hit the ground running. He’s worked hard in the off-season and will play in the back row. Taj Matthews is another back rower that has trained the house down.”
Why they will be competitive: “Last year missed out on a spot in the semi finals (Johns Cup) by a last minute goal kick. As a coaching staff we’ve looked at how to better ID players and have really challenged the boys this year, not only on the training paddock but off the field as well. In every aspect we want them to compete to the final whistle. They’re willing to roll up their sleeves, and the semi finals are a realistic goal.”
Last season: 15th
Squad: Bailey Vaeau, Billy Brown, Brendan Couzens, Broc Thomas, Brooklyn Rosemeyer, Chaice Bayley, Coby Thomas, Cooper Ausburn, Cooper Dean-Potaka, Demetrius Kilisimasi, Devonte Vaotu’uta, Edward McWilliam, Jaiden Perse, Jhet McArthurt, Josh Kopua, Josiah Fesolai, Lorenzo Godoy, Samisoni Talakai, Samuel Gillespie, Sean Bullen, Taj Matthews, Taj Moore, Travis Jackson, Trey Watson
NORTH SYDNEY BEARS
Coach: Paul Mamo
Players to watch: Brady McMillan joins the Bears from Mackay, where last season he played in the Queensland U16’s competition. A hard running centre, Brady is a recruit the coaching staff are looking forward to seeing in action. Heath Turner is a local junior from the Kuringai Cubs who has progressed through the North’s development programs and returns for another season with the Harold Matts squad. A quality back-rower, Heath represented the NSW Waratahs Gen Blue U16 rugby team last year while attending Knox Grammar. Fit and strong, he leads the team in testing and is ready for a big season.
Surprise packet: Another local junior, Ben Stringer joins from the Hills Hawks club. Still one year younger than most in the squad, the coaching staff have been impressed by the fullback’s trial form and believe he’ll push for a starting spot. A natural footballer, Ben looks great with the ball in hand.
Why they will be competitive: With key recruits and a number of returning players, the Bears are expected to build on last season’s effort and commence their climb up the ladder. With some big bodies and class on their edges, look for them to try and exploit any weaknesses out wide in opposition teams.
Last season: 14th
Coach: Chris Cotty
Players to watch: “There’s a couple of guys that played last year that are back once again. Halfback Alex Conti, up and coming fullback Michael Nasser and a front rower who has come along in leaps and bounds is Douglas Tuala. They’re three standouts that have gone well, they know what a pre-season is about and the difference between club and rep footy. They’re leading from the front and have done a good job in guiding the players around them.”
Surprise packet: “One that has trained really well and surprised a lot of people is our utility Joseph Radd. Another training the house down is hooker Jared Haywood. They’ve both surprised the group and are standing out.”
Why they will be competitive: “We’ve had a cracking pre-season. The boys are as fit as anything, the skill levels are fantastic and the experience from last year will make them better for the run. The coaching staff will be better for the run too. There’s a few mistakes I made that I want to learn from to better help the playing group. We have 11 kids coming back from last year and with a squad of 26-28 players, we have a lot of depth. We can call up any one of those players, something we didn’t fully have last year.”
Last season: 7th
Squad: Jacob Ah Lam, Matty Atchinson, Patrick Bayeh, Joseph Beshara, Tyler Birnie, Michael Boustany, Jordan Bunt, Jamie Carroll, Alex Conti, Jacob Crotty, Hayden Elkris, Ilai Esau, Junior Fatuio, Antonio Harb, Jared Haywood, Cooper Henderson, Lee Howlett, Jean-Paul Kawtal, Edwin Langi, Epeli Leao, Bill Lloyd, Adam Meslemani, Mikey Nasser, Julius Pula, Joseph Raad, Adrien Safi, James Safi, William Sefo, Sam Sherlock, Marc Tannous, Dougie Tuala, Jonah Watson
Coach: Robbie Mears
Players to watch: “We’ve only got four boys coming back from last year. In early training, Kohan Lewis our front rower has been performing really well. Nate Gallagher in the outside backs and fullback Luke Laulili’i will also have big years. Denzel (Schaafhausen-Mino) has been really good as well. He’s leading the boys in training and has come back with a good attitude. He know what it’s about.”
Surprise packet: “Onitoni Large is a good kid. He’s a year young and having his first season with the age group, but he’s a versatile five-eighth, fullback or centre who has a great overall athletic ability.”
Why they will be competitive: “We had an outstanding season last year and know the Wests Tigers have started to put some emphasis into the pathways development. We’ve seen that over the past couple of years, and hopefully as a club we see the benefit of that. Our role as coaches is to introduce the boys to their first experience and hopefully develop them into good footballers. This year is a pretty open season and a lot of teams will be competitive. We’ll be competitive again and hopefully go out each week and give it our best.”
Last season: 1st (Premiers)
Squad: Cooper Black, Joel Byrne, Cooper Clarke, Archie Duncombe, Kurtis Dupond, Sonny Edwards-Moeke, Saint Fuatimau, Maddax Fui, Nathaniel Gallagher, Pheonix Godinet, Chase Hepi, Alex Isdale, Ali Karnib, Aaron Keppie, Onitoni Large, Luke Laulilii, Byronn Laupepa, Kohan Lewis, Kimball Liufau, Heamasi Makasini, Callum McMenemy, Brooklyn Milford, Riley Oitmann, Amazon Pua’avase, Cooper Rauhihi, Lucas Rossi, Denzel Schaafhausen-Mino, Dylan Smith, Sebastian Sykes, Peter Ta’ai, Siotame Havea Jr (dev), Ashton Large (dev), Jonas Peni (dev)
Originally published as Harold Matts season preview: Every club profiled ahead of the 2023 NSWRL junior reps season