Some 600 of the state’s top young rugby players are set to collide in Armidale this weekend for NSW Country Rugby Union’s junior championships.
Teams from the eight country zones – Illawarra, Hunter, Central West, Central North, New England, Central Coast, Mid North Coast and Far North Coast – will battle at Sport UNE’s Consett Davis.
Carnival convener Simon Stuart said it was a huge accomplishment for the town to host one of the biggest events on the rugby calendar.
“Armidale Regional Council were instrumental in us getting the 12s, 13s and 14s,” he said.
“Because they [the country championships] bring so much income and revenue to town, they are asking for a tender fee to be submitted, so Armidale Regional Council were really proactive with that.
“It is really exciting. It is a huge coup for Armidale junior rugby and New England itself.
“It is the biggest event Country Rugby do because there is three age groups, 600 players.
“The town is booked out. We are expecting a crowd of around 1800 people there all up at Sport UNE, so it is a massive event.”
New England will only field one side in the event – an under 14s – but Stuart believes they are in with a strong chance of taking out the trophy.
“We have a very strong 14s, we are hoping to play in the gold medal game,” he said.
“We are quietly confident of causing a couple of upsets and going through to the final.
“They have played 11s, 12s, 13s and they have had a good history doing very well and finishing third and fourth but this year we want to go all the way.
“We have been training the house down and are quietly confident.”
New England are the smallest of all the country zones but Stuart believes the side will give the bigger regions a run for their money.
“By far we are the smallest,” he said,
“Most zones have 1200-1500 registered players, we did really well and got 150 registered players last year.
“We are not considered a threat.
“They are looking forward to the challenge.”
Games begin at 8am on both Saturday and Sunday and Stuart is hoping the local community gets behind the event.
“If we do make the finals, we want to get the rugby community behind the kids and get them down there to support us,” he said.
Last year’s junior championships were played in Nowra with powerhouse zone Illawarra taking out the under 12 division in a 34-7 grand final win over Hunter.
The Hunter zone got their revenge on their southern rivals, winning the under 13 final 33-7. In the under 14 decider, Hunter beat Central West 26-5.
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