Western Rams' best were named in the NSW Country side

COUNTRY SIDE: Parkes' Finnley Neilsen (16s), Benjamin Lovett (18s) and Kyle Mawhinney (16s) have been called up to represent NSW Country that will tour England in November.
COUNTRY SIDE: Parkes' Finnley Neilsen (16s), Benjamin Lovett (18s) and Kyle Mawhinney (16s) have been called up to represent NSW Country that will tour England in November.

Western has fallen short of completing a stunning, undefeated Laurie Daley Cup and Andrew Johns Cup campaigns but the pain of the 34-18 and 18-6 losses respectively to Illawarra South Coast Dragons and the Northern Rivers Titans on Saturday were short-lived.

An incredible eight Rams earned selection in the NSW Country under 18s side and six Rams in the under 16s, both to tour England in November, reward for the sides' tremendous country championship campaigns in 2019.

Parkes Spacemen's Benjamin Lovett in the 18s, and Kyle Mahwinney and Finnley Neilsen in the 16s are among the Rams guns awarded country jumpers in the 20-strong squads.

The Western sides headed to Glen Willow, Mudgee on Saturday for their country championship deciders that saw Lovett among the three to cross the try line in the 18s and Neilsen the only try-scorer in the 16s.

But it was a couple of these boys' future teammates that stole the show, and the major prize.

The Illawarra outfit sprung a grand final upset in the 18s, the Dragons guns helping their side kick on from 12-all at the break to eventually win the decider by 16 points.

The two sides went tit-for-tat throughout the opening 35 minutes but it was Illawarra that came out firing in the new half.

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. 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).

The under 16s Rams were up against a side that needed a plane flight and then a four-hour bus trip just to make it to the venue - a home ground advantage was supposed to mean something to Western in the 2019 Andrew Johns Cup final.

It didn't though. Not in the face of a extremely confident Northern Rivers Titans outfit.

Led brilliantly by half Tom Weaver, the Cudgen young-gun won man of the match honours, the Titans showed immense resilience to both put behind them a near-day-long commute from the north east of NSW and repel a number of strong Western raids at Glen Willow to come out on top 18-6 winners.

Weaver's side led 12-0 at the break and then extended that advantage to 18 points after defending their line for nearly 10 minutes straight before the gun No.7 picked up a loose pass and raced 90 metres to score and break the back of the hosts.

Weaver's sensational solo effort come the 51st minute virtually spelled the end of the Rams but a well deserved try five minutes from time from Rams skipper Neilson meant the hosts got on the board in the decider.

The young Rams battled to handle the grand stage of the country championship final at Glen Willow and that put a massive dent in their early efforts.

"I think there was a lot of nervous energy in that first half," Rams coach Tony Woolnough said.

"We were probably trying too hard and that led to a few mistakes, got us on the back foot and we never really recovered.

"They're a good team and they proved that today. It was hard to find a way through."

Mahwinney and Neilsen will be representing the under 16s NSW Country side in a curtain raiser against City at the Penrith and Warriors game in Penrith on May 17.

  • NORTHER RIVERS TITANS 18 (Rowan Mansfield, Tom Weaver, Bayley Cox tries; Tom Weaver 3 goals) def WESTERN RAMS 6 (Finnley Neilson try; Matt Noakes goal)