Bragging rights at stake
By TONY WHITE
THE best junior rugby league talent in the Clarence Valley do battle for school pride and bragging rights in the finals of the Westlawn Cup and Daily Examiner Shield (DEX) Shield at McKittrick Oval tonight.
It's finals evening and the cream has risen to the top.
After some exciting and closely-fought preliminary matches, it's come down to the wire, crunch time.
Defending DEX Shield champions Grafton High take on Maclean High in the Opens Final which promises to be a great game.
Grafton, stacked with talent, knocked off McAuley College to make the final, but Maclean, unheralded coming into the competition, have a strong team more than capable of knocking Grafton off its perch.
Grafton coach Craig Howe will be looking to the likes of explosive five-eighth Khan Williams, a powerful defender and good ball distributor, to set up play for Grafton. Jason Hackett at lock or centre, second-rower Scott Bennett and hit man Anthony Wicks with his bone-jarring defence, speed man Josh McLachlan and versatile Josh Donohue, will be key players.
"We've got a big pack of forwards and if they can dominate it will open the way for the backs to score plenty of points," Howe said. "Everyone is keen to keep the trophy at home."
Maclean, coached by Andrew Ford, could be the dark horse for the competition.
Last week they knocked out the favoured South Grafton High team in a rain-affected game and are quietly confident of continuing their form tonight.
"Basically we've had the same team together for the past three years, but this is the first time we've got them on the paddock in The Daily Examiner Shield," Ford said.
"Last season we had 12 out injured and it knocked the stuffing out of us."
Ford said his team had made the final 16 of the University Shield and will plan Coonabarrabran next month.
"We went further in that competition than either of the Grafton Schools, so I think that could be an indication of where we're standing," he said.
He pinpointed his halfback and captain Jackson Philp, centre Callum Lenard and representative lock Kane Douglas as his three dangermen.
The Under-14 final between South Grafton High and Maclean High provides an interesting match up.
Maclean won the trophy last year but South High, perennial winners, are keen to get it back after thrashing Grafton 30-6 in the lead up game.
Creative Mandaway Dutton, centre Ryan Cameron and forwards Matt Colgrave and Nathan Blanch, are the backbone of the side which will field a much stronger line up than against Grafton.
"We had several players missing last time but we're a much stronger unit this time," coach Terry Laybutt said.
"There's only a couple of players from last year's side and if the boys turn up to play mentally, I think they can win it. They're a talented team when all on deck."
The inaugural Westlawn Cup will be fought out between Clarence Combined Schools and South Graftom Primary.
Former Grafton Ghosts first grade coach Matt McKee coaches Clarence Combined which features a mixture of kids from Palmers Island, Gillwinga, Chatsworth Island and Gulmarrad.
"Second rower Zac Robinson is a very good footballer and lock Kyle Roberts a good ball runner and defender," McKee said. "Keiran Stewart at half and Todd McLennan in the second row are sure to be prominent."
After bening down 12-8 to Westlawn Public with three minutes remaining in the preliminary match, Clarence Combined scored then Cody Cameron raced 60 metres 30 seconds before the final hooter to score and leave Clarence Combined 16-12 winners.
"It was like a grand final win to them. We've got 23 players to chose from and every one of them were on their feet cheering and clapping. They're a very enthusiastic side," McKee added.
Experienced Ghosts first grader Shaun Davison has been helping coach Tony Skinner with the preparation of the South Grafton Primary side.
"Shaun's been great and I'm hoping he can act as runner in the final," Skinner said.
Skinner added demon defenders Luke Barkley and powerhouse Brendan Gillett, plus half Ryan MacDonald, five-eighth Gerry Daley and fullback Brendan Cleaver, were the likely stars.
"We've got a couple of big forwards and hopefully they can set the platform. We'll be keeping it simple, Jack Gibson type football," Skinner said.
Three Consolation Finals will also be played.
Matches begin at 4pm with the Westlawn Cup final scheduled for 4.40pm, the Under-14 final at 6.20pm and the Open Final at approximately 8.30pm.