The training the St Mary’s Primary School side did in the lead-up to the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) All Schools carnival was tougher than what most junior sides do.
But that just made the celebrations on Wednesday evening all the more sweet.
The Dubbo school’s under 11s side took out the state title on Wednesday, winning four games during the day before downing Harbord Primary 18-12 in the grand final at St Mary’s Stadium in Sydney’s west.
The victorious run was a remarkable achievement for a country school, but coach Luke Jenkins said it was thoroughly deserved.
“Most junior sides would just muck around and have fun at training but we worked hard and we said our fun would be when we win something,” Jenkins said.
“I’ve never seen happier kids than them after they won the grand final.”
The victory caps off a truly stunning rugby league season for the school, with the All Schools title now sitting alongside the Peachey Shield and Richardson Cup won during the bumper carnivals at Apex Oval in July.
I’ve never seen happier kids than them after they won the grand final.Coach Luke Jenkins
It was around that team Jenkins and trainer Wes Maas started working with the under 11s side in the build-up to Wednesday’s carnival.
It was five weeks of work and Jenkins was amazed by the attitude and willingness shown by his young troops.
“It’s pretty special,” he said.
“They handled it really well.We got stuck into training about four or five weeks out and we were training twice a week leading up to it.
“They put in a lot of effort … I was most happy for the kids and their parents. It was a good bunch of people.”
Making the experience even better for the side was two special guests at the team dinner on Tuesday, the night before the carnival.
The side was joined there by Dubbo products and current Penrith Panthers, Isaah Yeo and Kaide Ellis.
Carnival day rolled around and while it did finish in glory, it wasn’t all easy for the St Mary’s team.
All matches were closely officiated in order to keep all players as safe as possible but Jenkins said that made his committed side give away a stack of penalties. The whistle was blown every time a tackle threatened to go high or a player was lifted slightly in a tackle.
“We were under the pump and gave away a lot of penalties in defence but it was a big effort,” Jenkins said.
“They had to dig deep in defence and they hung on.”
Noah Sutcliffe was named player of the match in the final but he was just one of many standouts during the run to the title.
Jenkins said the school, and the St John’s Junior Rugby League club they play with on weekend, were lucky to have such talented players coming through.
“You can be big and fast but the ones who are good at this level are just natural footballers,” Jenkins said.
“It’s a big advantage at that age and there’s a few in the team like that.”
With so many talented juniors coming through the age groups, Jenkins said the challenge is going to be keeping them all in the game right through to under 16s.
Numbers have dropped off in the older age groups in recent times, with just four teams part of the Dubbo and District Junior Rugby League (DDJRL) this year.
“You would like to think in three or four years the numbers will have doubled,” Jenkins said.