A change to the pathway for aspiring country rugby league players could deliver the strongest Daley Cup competition yet, Andy Haycock says.
Now in his eighth year with the Western Rams academy, Haycock runs the Dubbo satellite training sessions for both age groups and travelled with the squads to Sydney for Sunday’s trial matches against the Central Coast Roosters.
The Penrith Panthers have made their SG Ball and Harold Matthews training resources available to the Western Rams academy.
Meanwhile a shift in the pathway meant country juniors – like Parkes’ Benji Glasheem – could play for Penrith (Western) or the Canberra Raiders (Riverina) in the SG Ball – wrapping up in May – and still live and train in their home towns, making them eligible for Rams selection.
“This year we’re pretty much full strength,” Haycock said of the 18s side, while admitting it was a shift that would benefit all regions.
Dubbo CYMS Thomas Stimpson scored a “nice try” while Fishies teammate Colby Peckham has a solid game in the middle, Haycock said.
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Meanwhile St Johns Dubbo junior Noah Ryan scored a nice try in the outside backs.
A total of 22 players took the field in the 18s clash, with Haycock predicting some tough decisions ahead for coach Kurt Hancock.
The Bathurst-based mentor will have to cut the squad back to just 18 ahead of the Rams’ opening Daley Cup clash against the Penrith Panthers on February 16.
Haycock said “keeping kids in the country” – with their pre-existing support network – “but also having a direct link to an NRL club” was vital.
“Ben Hardin, who’s the 20s coach, sends us the videos of the training drills and we run it how they would run it,” he said. “The beauty of what we’re doing is if kids are lucky enough to get to Penrith, they’re already aware of what’s expected.”
Played in the shadows of Panthers Stadium, Sunday’s trial attracted NRL stars Isaah Yeo and Kaide Ellis (both from Dubbo) and Wayde Egan (Lithgow), as well as Panthers SG Ball premiership-winning five-eighth, and Dubbo CYMS utility, Matt Burton.
Haycock said having the likes of Yeo present helped the kids “see there can be a pathway”.
“You’ve got three first graders from western NSW – and proudly from western NSW – they were happy to come along and interact,” he said. “There was a real western reunion – lots of people interested so see the next generation come through … It’s almost like a big family.”
The region’s coaches are also learning a great deal from Panthers pathway coaches Matt Cameron, Jimmy Jones, Sam Jones and Ben Hardin, who have visited the region and also hosted training in Penrith.
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