Country U23’s

The brightest young talent in Country Rugby League had the opportunity to impress against some of the world’s best players when the Country U23’s took on Samoa and Scotland in warm-up matches before the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

In an exciting addition for regional fans, the matches against the Toa Samoa and Scotland Bravehearts were played at Wagga Wagga’s McDonalds Park (Samoa) and Ballina’s Kingsford Smith Park (Scotland) and featured a number of curtain-raiser matches played on the day as part of a festival of football at each venue.

Facing a Samoan side with over 1700 NRL or Super League First Grade games experience, Country may not have won the game but they did win over plenty of admirers after a courageous performance against the fourth-best ranked team in International Rugby League.

The Country side put in a performance to remember in the 40-26 defeat in front of 3500 fans and Country U23’s Coach Josh Cale was thrilled by their performance.

“It was just a credit to them with the way they held themselves,” Cale said.

“The U23s concept had been knocked, but they are all young, all keen and they still have aspirations and dreams.

“It was an unbelievable performance and completely validated the concept.”

After having the better of the early stages, Country was unable to post the first points with Samoa also looking dangerous every time they touched the ball.

After tries to Peter Mata’Utia, Jarome Laui and Joey Leilua, Samoa were looking ast heading to the break with a hand lead before Jacob Gagai punced on a loose ballot score the first of Country’s tries to the delight of the home crowd.

Despite early tries to Ken Maumalo and Suaia Matagi, Country fired back with three of their own, including a 100-metre team effort to finish with a bang and send the Country crowd to their feet with applause.

Country Centre Ryley Thomas admitted it was a night to remember for himself and his teammates.

“Even though we didn’t get the chocolates, it still kind of feels like we won.”

After a couple of days to recuperate from the hard-fought match, the Country U23’s headed to Ballina for their clash with a young Scottish Bravehearts side at Kingsford Smith Park.

After scoring the first two tries of the match, Scotland were looking to put Country to the sword in the opening minutes before a quick fire double to Ryley Thomas and a try to Kauri Aupouri gave Country the lead at half-time.

A double to Jacob Gagai opened the floodgates for Country who piled on another four tries, including a third to Ryley Thomas, to seal a dominant and remarkable 50-14 victory.

CRL Operations Manager Bert Lowrie believed the matches presented a great opportunity for the Country players.

“After restructuring our pathways to an U23’s model for the Senior Male Country Championships, we were able to attract high quality opponents for the Country U23’s Representative side and we’re extremely grateful to Samoa and Scotland for the opportunity,” said Lowrie.

“There’s always added excitement to the season during a World Cup year and it was great for regional fans to have the opportunity to see international sides play in their own backyard.”

The matches were watched by a combined Live Stream audience of over 100,000.

Country Rugby League would like to congratulate the players, coaches and support staff for their efforts throughout the two matches. The players and Coaches – Josh Cale, Andrew Ryan and Adam Perry should be extremely proud of what they achieved against two high quality international opponents.