By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
Illawarra Cutters coach Jason Demetriou believes there's more than just title success on the line as his side prepares to clash with the Burleigh Bears on Sunday afternoon.
The Intrust Super Championship will not only put 34 players up against one another to determine the best second-tier club in Australia but also present opportunities to those without an NRL club or contract for the 2017 Telstra Premiership season.
Eight of the Cutters' 18-man squad are currently contracted solely to the Illawarra club and Demetriou was hopeful an NRL chance was just around the corner for them.
"We have players knocking on the door of an NRL contract so this is another chance for them to put their best foot forward and hopefully the game that helps them put pen to paper," Demetriou told NRL.com.
"For the blokes outside of those 10 Dragons there's guys who are desperate to get NRL contracts.
"I think (prop) Shannon Wakeman – if there's anyone who deserves one – he's it. Adam Quinlan showed his class on the weekend too. Another bloke, Shaun Nona, to me he is the best five-eighth in the [Intrust Super Premiership]."
Running out onto one of rugby league's grandest stages in ANZ Stadium will see both the uncontracted players and younger Dragons earn invaluable experience, according to Demetriou.
"Blokes like Jacob Host, Kurt Mann and Taane Milne, to get the experience of playing in big games on a big day gives them real confidence. The only place to go from there is the NRL," he said.
"That's the next level they need to step up to. There's been a correlation of players in the past that have won state finals and gone on to have good NRL careers so it's a huge opportunity for [the young Dragons] guys as well."
Demetriou – a former Intrust Super Championship-winning coach at the Northern Pride – gave a huge rap to Bears counterpart Jim Lenihan for turning the club around.
The Bears and Cutters have had similar trajectories over the past 12 months considering they both failed to play finals football last year.
"[Lenihan] went through some tough times there as a coach. There's always been a lot of expectation on the Burleigh club. What he's done is get the right brand of players and the right people who have bought into what they want to do," Demetriou said.
"We'll have to keep an eye out for Cameron Cullen who's had an outstanding year. Jamal Fogarty as well. One guy who I've been really impressed with is Paterika Vaivai and [Sami] Sauiluma as well so we have to be on song defensively all game if we're to win."