RUGBY league coaches generally despise any form of disruption heading into a big game – let alone a grand final.
But Bidgee’s under 18s boss Michael Thomas is more than happy to see three of his best players spend grand final week away from the rest of the Hurricanes squad.
Jesse McDonald, Tom Webb and Kieran Cates are all preparing for Sunday’s Group 20 decider against TLU by trialling for NRL clubs St George, Cronulla and Canberra respectively.
That’s on top of Ben Nakubuwai, who has already signed for the Melbourne Storm and will play for them in next year’s under 18s competition.
“It’s not the greatest preparation but you can’t hold the kids back from that sort of stuff, obviously,” Thomas said.
“We’ve got some really good young kids and the thing is they were all there last year – but their attitude and maturity this time around is 10 times better.
“They’ve learned to respect a grand final and what it’s all about, but not just that, they want to do it for each other.”
There is seemingly a mutual admiration flowing between the two camps with TLU coach Hamana Amoamo glowing in his praise for Thomas, who he has previously worked with for representative teams, and his star-studded squad.
Amoamo said he was trying to assemble the biggest side he could to counter the Hurricanes’ power and discipline.
“We know Bidgee will be very well structured. They’re a team that doesn’t make many mistakes - you probably get one or two opportunities to score against them in a half,” he said.
“We’re under no illusions of the task in front of us – Bidgee’s a very good side all the way through and it starts with their coach.
“He’s not just a good 18s coach, he’s a good thinker.”
Thomas said the Hurricanes have a similar respect for the Sharks.
“Hamana has got a great training regime and a lot of good kids,” he said.
“We respect them very highly and we know they’re going to give us a really tough game.”
But while Bidgee will start as warm favourites, Amoamo said his TLU outfit is ready to spring an upset.
“The boys are keen. The whole town is. We’ve got three teams in grand finals and we’re the smallest town in the comp,” he said.
“There’s not really much down here except for crop farming and shearing.
“When there’s a league game on the whole town goes and the boys know the jumper belongs to the town – we’re just guarding it.”