Clarence connections chase NRRRL grand final glory
MULTIPLE road trips up and down the Pacific Highway every week have paid off for Cooper Many with the 19-year-old set to play an important roll for Ballina Seagulls in the NRRRL Gold First Grade grand final today.
Many is one of four youngsters who have travelled up to Ballina all season after the Lower Clarence Magpies withdrew in 2020.
Tye Delaney and Patrick Delaney will line up against Marist Brothers in the Under-18s, while Mason Horton will line up in Reserve Grade, with the club represented in all four grades at
Kingsford Smith Park in Ballina today.
"Rocking up to training is a big part of the Seagulls' success," Many said. "They get full squads there, 50 plus people there every week.
"All the older boys are welcoming, which has helped calm my nerves."
Many has played several top grade matches for the Seagulls this season, most of those off the bench after playing a full game in Reserve Grade. However, despite Ballina being represented in all four grades, today he is expected to be one of two fresh reserves against Marist Brothers with plenty of fuel in the tank.
"Coops has been great," Ballina captain-coach Luke Douglas said.
"He has started a few times for us this season, but the last month I've dropped him back and got him playing twice as much minutes, with 80 minutes in reggies and then off the bench in A Grade.
"He played fresh in the semis and we'll probably have two on Saturday. As much as he'd love to be helping the Reserves, Marist will have four fresh reserves."
Many will start in jersey 14 ready to inject his energy into a forward pack that includes starting props Luke Douglas and Cameron Copeland and back rowers Jack Durheim, Anthony Colman and Zac Beecher.
"He came along as a backrower, but we've some quality backrowers so I've pushed him into the middle," Douglas said. "He's got a decent frame and matches it with the big boys.
"There's less to think about and less decision making in the middle, you've just got to work hard and make your tackles."
Many is the younger brother of Lawrence Tavern owner Luke Many, who was one of Douglas' teammates while growing up as a Lower Clarence junior.
The 34-year-old veteran of 263 NRL and 86 English Super League matches has enjoyed the opportunity to take the younger Many under his wing, and hinted at a possible return to the Magpies.
"I grew up with his brother and we're pretty good mates," he said. "He just wanted to play some footy and sure enough he's earned his spot in the A Grade side and hasn't let us down.
"I'd love to be back at Yamba helping out Lower. They've got a great stadium there now, and their 16s have won two years in a row, so there's a lot of great juniors there.
"(Former junior) Daine Laurie got a few games in the NRL this year and they've got a few people to look up to so it would be good to help them on their way."
Meanwhile, multi-talented Grafton sportsman Elliott Speed is shaping as a key figure for Marist Brothers in the Under-18 decider.
The Grafton Ghost junior was another Clarence Valley product who ventured north to continue playing rugby league in 2020, enjoying a stellar year at fullback.
The youngster took up his share of airtime on ABC Grandstand last Saturday with tries and goals to his name as the commentators updated the scorers throughout the semi-final win against Byron Bay Red Devils prior to calling the A Grade clash.
Ballina defeated Casino Cougars 51 to 18 to progress to the Under-18s grand final despite Speed's usual Grafton Ghosts teammate Hayden Ensbey scoring a second half hattrick out of dummy half.
Douglas was confident the Under-18s can help Ballina make a strong start to the day in the club's quest for a clean sweep.
"Early on in the season the 18s were playing a bit of individual footy," he said.
"I remember playing 18s for Lower. It's the best time of your life, playing with the mates you grew up with.
"It took those boys a bit of time to gel. Now they're working hard and going really good the last few weeks and hopefully they take that into the grand final."
In an extraordinary season, the NRRRL was split into southern (Gold) and northern (Green) competitions due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and the Queensland border.
At Kingsford Smith Park, Ballina
11.30am, Ladies League Tag: Marist Brothers v Ballina Seagulls
1pm, Under-18s: Marist Brothers v Ballina Seagulls
2.35pm, Reserve Grade: Ballina Seagulls v Casino Cougars
4.20pm, A Grade: Ballina Seagulls v Marist Brothers
Grand finals played last week at Les Burger Field, Cabarita Beach
Ladies League Tag: Tweed Coast Raiders 4 def Cudgen Hornets 2
Under-18s: Cudgen Hornets 28 def Murwillumbah Mustangs 16
Reserve Grade: Tweed Coast Raiders 14 def Murwillumbah Mustangs 10
First Grade: Tweed Coast Raiders 24 def Murwillumbah Mustangs 18