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'This is destiny for us': Talau reflects on drought-breaking SG Ball title

It took 32 years, but the SG Ball Cup found its way back to Kogarah with Willie Talau's under-19s side triumphing over the Bulldogs 40-18 in the competition's Grand Final.

After conceding an opening minute try, Talau's men poured on seven unanswered four-pointers to race away with a decisive win at CommBank Stadium.

The Dragons' imposing physicality and athleticism was on full display as they ran riot through the middle for much of the clash before showcasing their defining defensive resolve through the second half.

The squad came into the season fresh off a year in which they won just three games and fell short of the finals for the 10th season in a row.

Talau however credits last year's squad for the role that they played in setting standards and helping shift the culture.

“It's really important to acknowledge last year's group,” Talau said.

“We established the standards that these guys were able to pick up and run with. We made some really quick progress and, throughout the year, that accelerated which wouldn't have been possible unless they understood the standard that was already set by last year's lot.

“We started to understand the identity that we were trying to build at our club in and around working hard, what it means to be a good teammate, and just competing... Those who did come back took on the task of being role models and that just made the development a little bit quicker because there were guys there who could mentor the other guys through it.”

It's massive not just for the St George region but it's a reflection of where our club's heading from a St George Illawarra perspective.

Dragons SG Ball Cup head coach Willie Talau

Among the returning faces were the likes of skipper Shadi Hammoud, winger Jesse Williams, and middle forwards Loko Pasifiki Tonga and Corey Ackers, all of whom played critical roles throughout the season and in the decider.

Talau noticed that the hardened identity of his side shone through on Grand Final day after a less-than-ideal start to the encounter.

“It's really important to understand that we gameplan for that sort of stuff. Ideal situation, we just roll through, score all the points, and get the job done, but we made sure that we prepared the boys for when stuff does go wrong,” he said.

“The things that went wrong weren't from a lack of trying... We trusted in the process. We just came back out and played our brand of footy, and it was a real entertaining brand of footy. It was a really good combination of physicality and elite skill.”

Talau stresses that the victory was not just for those in between the lines but also for the army of hard workers behind the scenes who have spent years dedicating their time to the club for seemingly little reward.

“It's massive not just for the St George region but it's a reflection of where our club's heading from a St George Illawarra perspective,” he said.

“It's a nice reward and recognition for all the hard-working people who have worked tirelessly in and around our pathways for no significant success... We've got a lot of people who work for nothing, they give up a lot of their time because they love the Red V and just to give them that little bit of a reward makes it all worthwhile.”

Loko Tonga and Finau Latu congratulating one another.
Loko Tonga and Finau Latu congratulating one another.

Talau notes the side's 46-10 Round 6 loss to the eventual minor premier Roosters as a decisive point in the season and one that emboldened his side.

“[The Round 6 defeat] was a bit of a headscratcher but the growth mindset in the group was always evident. We learnt a lot about ourselves and about preparation from that game,” he said.

“We always said that this is exactly where we were meant to be at this point of time.”

As is the case with all junior representatives sides, each player now sets off on their own rugby league journey with Tonga and lock Finau Latu the first to earn promotions to the Jersey Flegg Cup side.

“We've got a great crop of players coming through now who are genuine prospects thanks to the hard work our head of pathways at St George Kyle Stanley as well the St George Illawarra recruitment team and the guys we already had, we'd done a lot of work with around the academy,” Talau said.

“[Tonga and Latu] didn't look out of place there. It's nice to win but we have to prepare those guys so that everything looks familiar, and it just becomes about their natural talent and physical ability because they are gifted individuals with really high footy IQ.”

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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