IT wasn’t the ending coach Jamie Szczerbanik was banking on, but season 2016 has been a hugely successful one for the Western Rams’ under 16s.
Lining up for their final game of the season against the Federation of Italia Rugby League Australia’s under 16s Blue side, the hosts were stunned as the Italians stormed to a 22-0 lead.
Cracking tries to Sam Ellias, Mark Zaurini, Joel Saldaneri and a 35-metre pearler from Azzurri prop Michael Gibson – he steam-rolled four would-be Rams defenders on his way to the line – shot the FIRLA boys out to the commanding half-time lead.
Western rallied in the second period, Forbes’ Charlie Staines showing a very clean pair of heels on his way to a try, after setting up the first for Zarrin Galea.
Backrower Tyrone Harrison also crossed for the Rams in the lead-up, helping the score along to 22-14.
But the Italian boys, who played four games in the lead-up to Saturday’s match, sealed it with their fifth try of the afternoon nine minutes from full-time, fullback Dane Oostendorp slicing through to take the lead to 28-14.
Despite the loss, St John’s five-eighth Matt Burton again impressed on the big stage while fellow Dubbo-based players Paddy Haycock, Todd Deveigne and Blaine Gordon also did their future representative chances no harm.
Szczerbanik believes his side’s disappointing opening 30 minutes was too difficult to come back from, but was full of praise for the group, one that finished second at the 2016 country championships.
“It’s an exciting day, not only for the Italian boys but for the Western Rams too and rugby league in the area. It was good for the boys to get together and play one last game for the year,” he said.
“We knew they’d be fast and direct through the middle and try and get us on the back foot. We had to match that, and unfortunately we didn’t. We just shot ourselves in the foot in that first half.”
FIRLA coach Reno Santaguida was rapt with the effort from his outfit while adding he was one of many whose eye was drawn to Burton.
“To come the the country, and for us to embrace country rugby league and share and showcase what we know about footy is a great opportunity,” he said.
“We always expect to win. We’ve been together for two or three years, our cohesion is pretty good.
“Credit to the country boys who fought back in that second half and really gave it to them.
I thought the whole country team did well. There’s a lot of hard runners and a great kicker in the six (Burton), he went really well.”