Under-23s shine at Narrabeen
The New Zealand Under-23 side showed positive signs for the future at the Country Cup tournament staged in late July at the Sydney Academy of Sport, Narrabeen, Australia.
After losing its opening game to defending champions Illawarra seniors 34-14, the Kiwis ultimately took out the tournament final with a 33-27 win over the same opposition, but due to competition rules could not be awarded the title or trophy because they weren’t an Australian side.
The massive turnaround was the result of teamwork, good individual skills and an increasing ability to read opposition game plans. All but one of the opposing teams were of senior status and coach Mark Sullivan can take much satisfaction from the results.
In the first encounter the Kiwis stuck with Illawarra well initially but the second half was a real test. However, they emerged from game two, against Coffs Coast, with a more than creditable 19-17 success before marching on to victories over Northland 32-11, Coffs Harbour 30-14, Canberra Charges 24-10 and New South Wales Juniors 21-10. Before the grand final triumph, New Zealand beat Coffs Coast in a close, exciting crossover contest 33-30.
James Daniel was the outstanding Kiwi player at the tournament. He featured prominently in the most demanding passages of play and secured some fine outside shots. The high pointer was subsequently named in the event’s All Star five.
Throughout, other high pointers Luke McDowall and Kauri Murray also impressed, the former controlling play well, the latter showing good versatility.
Fifteen-year old Sebastian Filpe-Lange demonstrated superb defence, snatching several rebounds and proving dangerous getting in close to the board. Slade St John O’Rourke also showed exemplary defence and scored well.
All the low pointers performed ably. Yashan Singh Randhawa, Daniel Foliaki and Kale Hunter got good game time and contributed to the defence effort where the foundations to the overall success were laid.