Western will wrap up its Johns Cup and Daley Cup selection process this Saturday at Oberon when the Rams tackle Penrith in what will be a dress rehearsal for round one.
The Panthers and Rams have been drawn to face-off in the opening fixtures of both the under 16s and under 18s country championships, which will be at Lithgow on February 16.
Saturday’s games, though, will be each sides’ final hit-out of the pre-season, with Western training together since the beginning of November.
The Oberon Sportsground trials on Saturday afternoon follow two pre-season games with the Central Coast Roosters at St Mary’s, Penrith a fortnight ago.
With Johns Cup-winning mentor Kurt Hancock moving up to coach the Daley Cup side in 2019 Tony Woolnough has taken charge of the Rams under 16s and both championship contenders will hope to put the polish on their respective build-ups with solid performances against the mountain men.
The Johns Cup boys will kick-off at 4pm while the under 18s are expected to start at 5.15pm.
Both Western squads still include over 20 players, but given the length of the 2019 championship – the country titles run from the middle of February to the beginning of April – Rams officials are expecting to use a large number of players this season.
Both squads will take part in a camp at Burrendong on the February 9.
Cowboys juniors Elijah Colliss and Riley Blackhall helped Western to Johns Cup glory in 2018 and are again in the frame to appear in the green and white after trialling strongly for Hancock’s under 18s side.
Western Rams under 16s Coach Tony Woolnough said he would use the game in Oberon to finalise his squad but is looking for team orientated performances.
“I’ve instilled in the boys that this is a team rather than a group of individuals and hopefully we can come together as a unit against Penrith,” he said.
“We have settled on a squad of 22, and a couple of players have put their hands up at the last trial in Penrith, and I want to have a look at those kids.
“A few kids if they play well this weekend they could force their way into the squad, we will settle on a final team after this game.”
Woolnough said he is looking for fringe players to show their skills in a few positions.
“There will be a few kids looking to force their way into the final 18,” he said.
They’ll get a run off the bench, or I’ll try them in a few different positions to see how versatile they are.
“You can’t really specialise in a position at the under 16 level our players have to be flexible and be able to play in a variety of positions.”
Woolnough said he is confident his squad will play well on the day.
“I am excited to work with these kids,” he said. “We have some real talent in the squad, and if our players all play to their ability we will give this game a good shake.”
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A few kids if they play well this weekend they could force their way into the squad, we will settle on a final team after this game.Tony Woolnough