Western has fallen short of completing a stunning, undefeated Laurie Daley Cup campaign but the pain of that 34-18 loss to Illawarra South Coast Dragons on Saturday was short-lived.
An incredible eight Rams earned selection in the NSW Country under 18s side to tour England in November, reward for the side's tremendous country championship campaign in 2019.
Noah Ryan, Ben Lovett, Rylee Blackhall, Liam Henry, Campbell Woolnough, Jack Hartwig, Nathan Ward and Elijah Colliss make up nearly half of the 20-strong country squad.
On Saturday at Mudgee, though, it was a couple of those boys' future teammates that stole the show, and the major prize.
Kane Ball and Tyrone Roberts shone bright as the Illawarra outfit sprung a grand final upset at Glen Willow, the Dragons guns helping their side kick on from 12-all at the break to eventually win the decider by 16 points.
Roberts was sizzling in the second half, scoring one try and laying on another in a showing that would have had Country selectors licking their lips.
His combination in the halves with Blackhall will be one to watch come the England tour.
But Ball, at the back for the Illawarra side, was equally brilliant and was named man of the match following the Dragons' win, the first against this Western group for many of the south coast outfit.
It's so good. We lost to them earlier in the year, I'm so glad we got them.Illawarra five-eighth Tyrone Roberts.
Ball and Roberts cut the Rams edges to shreds - five of the Dragons' six four-pointers were scored by outside backs - and both earned spots in the NSW Country side, too - Phoenix Ventebua-Finnerty and Nelson Sharp also got picked from the victorious Illawarra outfit.
"Speechless," Roberts said post game.
"It's so good. We lost to them earlier in the year, I'm so glad we got them.
"We came out after half-time and knew we just to shut down their halves and their centres ... we did that and took them out of the game and got away with the win."
The two sides went tit-for-tat throughout the opening 35 minutes but it was Illawarra that came out firing in the new half.
Roberts laid on his side's first of the second stanza via a Jye Patterson try and then darted through the middle of the ruck on the 45-minute mark to give the Dragons a 12-point buffer.
Western wasn't without its chances, but each time the Rams boys ventured down in Illawarra territory they released the pressure valve at the worst moments.
"We missed our opportunities," Western coach Kurt Hancock said looking back when the score was 24-18 and the Rams were pressing.
"We had a couple of good ones, in the middle of the second half, and that would have got us back in the game, but we sort of bombed it and they went the length to put us away.
"They've been judging themselves on us. It's a sign of respect for our guys but in saying that it's probably a kick in the bum, we need to get better, they're all catching up."
Props Nick Bennett and Liam Henry were both tremendous through the middle. Ben Lovett was super and skipper Nathan Ward was inspirational, as they've been through the entire tournament.
"To get a few boys in the country side was even better. They deserve it too," Hancock added.
- ILLAWARRA SOUTH COAST DRAGONS 34 (Alex Lobb, Jay Weaver, Cooper Tunbridge, Jye Patterson, Tyrone Roberts, Fletcher Blackett tries; Tyrone Roberts 5 goals) def WESTERN RAMS 18 (Ryan Manning, Rylee Blackhall, Ben Lovett tries; Tyler Colley 3 goals)
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