SIX hundred teenage players from across the State flooded into Tuncurry for a spectacularly successful tournament in preparation for the Australian Rugby Union's newly launched Junior Gold Cup program.
As a climax to the Coast to Country (C2C)rugby development scheme, 13 under 16 and 12 under 14 youth teams, and seven girls teams played off in the NSW Country regional finals in a stepping stone to next year's Gold Cup competitions from mid-February to late March, 2014.
The Lower Mid North Coast was represented by a combined Manning Barbarians XV of under 16 and under 14 youths, both acquitting themselves encouragingly to finish fifth, the under 16s winning one game and drawing another of their four-game qualification program against the best young players of NSW Country.
The Barbarians were chosen from Taree Christian College, Bulahdelah Central, Gloucester High, St Clare's High, Chatham High, Manning Valley Anglican College and Forster-Tuncurry's Great Lakes Colleges by head coach Graham Sonter and assistant coaches, Ron McCarthy and Rob Seale.
With the Lower MNC premiership-winning Forster-Tuncurry Dolphins club expecting 450 players for the tournament, an additional 150 players packed the complex.
Dolphins club president, Damian Daczko, said: "With teams from 14 to 16 years of age from all over NSW, we had food and drinks for an army, but the extra numbers caught us by surprise.
"We coped, but it became a loaves and fishes situation by early afternoon. The economy of the area certainly benefited. We had 400 players with parents and officials staying in motel accommodation for one and sometimes two nights."
North Coast development officer, Bruce Frame, was assisted by ARU chief operations officer Michael Doyle and development managers, John Searl, Matthew Johnston, Adam Crane, Gary Walsh, Graham Sonter and former Malta representative prop, Mark De Brincat.
Utilising four grounds in close proximity and with the major arena, Harry Elliot Oval, enclosed and accommodating a grandstand, made the complex "a fantastic venue," enthused Mr Doyle. "It was a magnificent tournament."
Of the Barbarians under-16s, players winning praise were forwards Jaxon Harris, Jake Blanch and Harrison Brainsma (BC), James Sherwood (MVAC), Gloucester's Ryan Hennessy with Nik Mylonas (TCC) earning special commendation as players' player. Best among the under 14s were Dallas Clark (TCC), Jake Curnow and Colin Burgess (BC), Jack Ballantyne (MVAC) and Tim Daczko (SCHS).
St Pius (Adamstown) won the under 14s, their strapping centre Tex Hoy looking an outstanding prospect in the 19-0 defeat of Mudgee High; Xavier College (Lennox Head) claimed the under 16 title and Wagga High won the girls' championship.