Excitement is beginning to build in junior representative circles with the kick-off to the 2024 season less than a week away.
The Illawarra Steelers will this season feature teams in SG Ball Cup (under-19s men), Tarsha Gale Cup (under-19s women), Harold Matthews Cup (under-17s men) and Lisa Fiaola Cup (under-17s women).
Former Kangaroo Shaun Timmins takes over as head coach of the SG Ball side with Courtney Crawford in charge of the Tarsha Gale unit, Jamie Szczerbanik heading the Harold Matthews squad and Brad Reh the Lisa Fiaola outfit.
You can check out the draw for each of the competitions by clicking on the Draw tab of our homepage and selecting which competition you wish to view on the dropdown menu.
SG BALL CUP
Former Kangaroo Shaun Timmins – flanked by assistants Mark Riddell and Bryan Norrie – takes over a Steelers side that finished one point shy of finals footy a season ago.
NRL trainees Hayden Buchanan, Lyhkan King-Togia and Kade Reed head the squad alongside hard-working captain Daniel Meafou.
Timmins says it is an “honour” to be leading the side and that the preseason period has been a successful one for his squad.
“It's where I started as a young bloke coming through the Steelers and it was my pathway,” Timmins said.
“To go back and be a part of it and coach these kids and hopefully see them transition through the grades, I've enjoyed it so far… [I’ve loved] their willingness to want to get better. They've bought into what it means to be a Steelers player and what we want out of them.”
He believes that the likes of Buchanan, King-Togia, and Reed have benefitted greatly from a preseason training with the NRL squad and that their growth has been evident since reintegrating with the under-19s squad.
“It's been great for them to train with the NRL squad. They've done a real good job actually in their first preseason,” he said.
“They just bring that leadership back and real confidence after training with the NRL squad. You can see when they come back and reintegrate with our SG Ball side, they've just got that confidence from the NRL... I just want them to play their game and be real leaders amongst the group.”
Having finished painstakingly short of a finals berth 12 months ago, Timmins is eyeing a return to the postseason in his first season coaching the side.
“It's a short comp, so there's no time to dip the toe in - you've got to get straight into it,” he said.
“Obviously, the goal is to make the finals… It is a week-by-week thing. You can't afford to drop too many games. We've got some team goals that we've set but, first things first, we've got Souths on Saturday which will be a tough challenge.”
Their year starts with a clash against Rabbitohs at Collegians Sporting Complex in Figtree before hitting the road to take on the Raiders in Round 2.
They host the defending premier Eels at WIN Stadium in Round 4 and make the trip up to Netstrata Jubilee Stadium in Round 7 to face the Dragons.
TARSHA GALE CUP
Coming into the new season, Courtney Crawford’s Tarsha Gale unit will be eager to improve on a semi-finals exit at the hands of the Bulldogs a year ago.
Crawford has at her disposal a promising squad featuring a number of players who have spent time in the Dragons NRLW setup including Ella Koster, Charlotte Basham, Bronte Wilson, Indie Bostock and Kasey Reh.
Centre Mia-Rose Walsh, back rower Makayla McFayden, and five-eighth Evie McGrath are among the other names that Crawford has tipped to play a key role in the side’s campaign.
She says that the squad – 10 of whom are returning – have learnt a heap over the past 12 months and are counting down the days until their Round 1 hit-out against the Rabbitohs.
“The girls and the staff are really excited for Round 1 – preseason can feel like a long time but now we are into the fun part of the season and we all can’t wait to see what it holds,” Crawford said.
“We definitely took plenty of lessons out of 2023. We were a young side who put 100 per cent effort into each and every game. Sometimes, we just tried a little too hard to get a result rather than trusting our systems and building pressure.”
Crawford is pleased with the manner in which her squad has been building and that finals footy is again the target.
“The target is to finish in the top 4 and that will set us up with a good chance come finals time,” she said.
“We have 10 returning girls from last year’s Tarsha Gale Squad and another 11 who have graduated from our Lisa Fiaola system, which is great to see. They are a super competitive bunch and definitely don’t lack the drive to be successful in this competition… For us across the team, whether you’ve experienced the NRLW system or not, the expectation is that you work hard and be selfless to the team.”
They are a super competitive bunch and definitely don’t lack the drive to be successful in this competition.Steelers Tarsha Gale Cup head coach Courtney Crawford
Their season begins against the Rabbitohs, and they face the Dragons coming off a Round 6 bye before finishing their regular season with a local derby showdown against the Sharks at Collegians.
HAROLD MATTHEWS CUP
The Steelers finished just one point out of the top six a year ago and will hope to go one better this time around under the guidance of Jamie Szczerbanik.
A number of names are being tipped for big seasons under Szczerbanik including Western Suburbs Red Devils product Leeroy Weatherall, livewire fullback Jack Talbott, physical centre Phoenix Johns and NSW Koori under-17s representative Mace Scofield.
The squad takes on the Rabbitohs in Round 1 before a second week bye in the lead-up to their home opener against the Central Coast Roosters in Figtree.
A meeting with the Warriors in Auckland comes in Round 6 before an anticipated showdown against the Dragons the following week.
LISA FIAOLA CUP
The Steelers will look to build off a strong campaign under head coach Brad Reh in an expanded 2024 Lisa Fiaola Cup season.
A number of talented youngsters headline the squad including the likes of back rower Tahlia O’Brien, speedster Koffi Brookfield, middle forward Tahanni Kaufusi, playmaker Ella Greatz and centre Halle Barrett – daughter of Dragons great Trent.
They begin their year against the Rabbitohs before facing off against the CC Roosters, Bears, Eels and Roosters heading into a Round 6 bye.
Their final three weeks of the regular season come against the Dragons, Panthers, and Sharks in what shapes as a key period for Reh’s outfit.