League juniors chase bush dominance

By CHRIS GILMORE

SIX weeks of preparation boils down to just 80 minutes tomorrow for the Northern Rivers Under-18 rugby league team, which will take on Western Division in the NSW Country Divisional Championship final in Canberra.

The team made the final with a nail-biting extra-time win over North Coast at Macksville last weekend.

Northern Rivers coach Wayne Cullen said his side faced a tough challenge against Western Division.

"They've won the most crowns in the Country Championship," he said.

"Their region goes west from Dubbo, so they have a large area to pick from."

Cullen said Northern Rivers also faced a tough preparation for the game.

"We're leaving from Ballina on Friday (today) and then flying down from Brisbane, so we won't arrive in Canberra until about 8pm on Friday," he said.

"Our game kicks off at 12.30pm the next day.

"We expect it will be freezing cold down there as well."

But what the team lacks in solid preparation they will more than make up with their enthusiasm and dedication.

"Through all the playing staff, everyone wants to achieve," Cullen said.

"They're keen and enthusiastic. We've enjoyed our preparation, teaching them the principles of attack and defence."

Cullen said he expected a number of Northern Rivers players to make the NSW Under-18 Country team, and also said Northern Rivers players could play a big part in the Gold Coast's Under-20 set up as part of their admission to the National Rugby League competition for 2007.

"We have a number of players who could step up to the next level and go forward," he said.

Cullen said Ballina front-rower James Rix was a stand-out last week, and was well supported by team captain and Ballina team-mate Mitch Aubusson.

Lismore hooker Harry Witt was also developing well with strong defence and a good running game, he said.

And when Wayne Cullen says a kid can play, he should know.

Cullen was a boom youngster with Ballina in the early 1980s, and went on to captain the Northern Rivers open team when he was just 19.

He headed to Sydney and played for Canterbury and Wests, and has coached Toowoomba and Brisbane Souths.

His back-up staff is second to none. It includes former Canterbury front-rower Peter Smith and former Gold Coast trainer Rudi Meir, now a human movement lecturer at South Cross University.



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