By Olivia Barry
The Illawarra Steelers SG Ball (U18) team were defeated 25-10 by the Penrith Panthers in the Grand Final at Pepper Stadium, Penrith on Saturday.
Steelers winger Dylan Morris opened the scoring 15 minutes into the first half through an unconverted try, but the Panthers replied via two converted tries take a 12-4 lead at half time.
Whatever chance Illawarra may have had in staging a second half comeback evaporated through injuries to three key Steelers players – inspirational captain Hayden Lomax, clever hooker Cooper Purcell and talented fullback Steven Marsters.
The Panthers extended their lead to 24-4, but to their credit the Steelers never gave in, Morris scoring the final try of the match, converted by Zac Lomax.
A last minute field goal to the Panthers though made the final score 25-10 in their favour.
“But our Juniors are renowned for their character and their commitment, and if they take that forward into their rugby league careers, we’ll all continue to see them play," said Dragons CEO Peter Doust.
A disappointed coach Shane Millard though admitted despite the loss he was proud for what his team had achieved this season.
“While it wasn’t their best performance, it was certainly a brave and tough performance," said Millard.
"We lost three very influential players, but they hung in there and I couldn’t be more proud of them."
Assistant Coach Shaun Timmins believes the players within the team have a bright future ahead of them.
“They’ve put in a great effort this year”, said Timmins.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing some of these boys filter through to the Dragons NRL team in years to come."
Following the Grand Final match it was announced that Steelers halfback Jackson Willis and centre Zac Lomax have been included in the NSW U18 State of Origin Pathways train-on squad.
Both will be considered for selection in the final squad to take on their Queensland counterparts prior to the second State of Origin fixture.