Photos thanks to Bec Herring.

The Cootamundra 16s and 18s Bulldogs sides have recorded historic wins against cross town rivals the Young Cherrypickers over the weekend, with score lines of 30-8 and 34-18 respectively.

The young Bulldogs are up against it. They are following the senior sides of the Gundagai Tigers around, so that the township of Coota can field sides in the Group 9 competition. With Gundagai’s help and the Tigers allowing Coota to play in their regular age groups due to lack of players along the Murrumbidgee at the moment, the Bulldogs are now lighting up the field and look to be serious contenders thus far for their respective 2024 seasons. Although unable at this stage to play before their own towns’ senior league tag and first grade sides, the young men are the talk of the town.

Traditionally strong across all junior age groups, the ‘Pickers’ put in a strong performance in both the Sullivan Cup and the Weissel Cup matches however, were unable to match it  with the boys in blue and white, who fought hard all day and showed their grit and determination to dominate their opponents.

Coaches, managers and club stalwarts of the club put their heads together at the end of the day and tried to work out when the last time it was, that Coota had won both grades against Young at Young.

The Sullivan Cup saw Young strike first with a try to Jarrell Brooks in the 4th minute, however, this made Coota sit up and take notice as Coota Half Paul Bean crossed two minutes later, with Harry Boxsell converting to make it 6-4. That is where Young’s scoring ceased for a considerable amount of the match and Coota piled on four more tries, all of which were converted by the boot of Boxsell, before Young’s Samuel Scott went over for an unconverted try in the 59th minute to leave the score at 30-8, Coota’s way.

Bulldogs Manager Jamin Hall was very happy with his sides’ performance and singled out a few of his charges for a special mention, while stressing that the whole side will need to back the performance up against Junee at Gundagai’s ANZAC Park on Saturday.

He said, “We don’t remember the last time we have been over there and got a win at Young against both teams. That gives you an idea as to how important it was for us. The first 20 minutes it was set for set. It was a real battle, we got over the top of them in the end. We were pretty dominant for the whole game and to keep them to that was impressive.”

“Paul Bean scored two tries and they were really timely, it sort of broke their spirit a bit. Sam Elphick’s defence was great, he had a great game defensively. Harry Boxsell our Captain played two games of footy and led us around the park really well.

Alex Brown has been good all year with a strong pre season and he is leading from the front. Isaiah has been really strong in attack and defence. Dylan Herring has also had a huge increase in confidence and its been really great for him.

“Going into Junee this weekend, it’s very hard to back that up after putting in so much effort against Young. Their confidence is up, so hopefully we can get the win this weekend.”

The Weissel Cup match was a similar affair for the Bulldogs with Young scoring first in the second minute through Nicholas Canellis, before Coota piled on the tries through Toby Tanks and Darcey O’Toole, before Tanks followed his first try up with a double, before O’Toole crossed for two more tries to also claim a hat-trick. Kristian Miller crossed in the 55th minute before Young scored two late tries through William Lamb and Lucas Cayfe to make the score a little closer. O’Toole kicked three conversions to help Coota to a final score of 34-18, although the gap could have been larger if not for the late tries.

Bulldogs Manager Scott Piffero was also very happy with his sides’ performance and singled out some of the players for special mention while also being mindful of the impending match against Junee.

He said, “The 16s were beaten in the u15s Grand Final last year but the 18s Young has had the wood on them in that age group for a few years now, it was good to get a win in both grades.

It’s not a good situation for our boys, we would like to get them a home game against another club so they can play before the seniors. Some of them have never played any senior footy at Fisher Park. They are still playing senior footy though and should be competitive going in to the finals.

Piffero didn’t want to single anyone out as it was a great team effort but couldn’t go past O’Toole who scored a hat trick and Fred Graham who has also been a good performer. Tanks also received a mention for his hat trick, although Piffero said there wasn’t a bad performance anywhere in the 18s.

“We play Junee in Gundagai on Saturday. We did play a trial game against Junee this year but you can’t read too much in to trial games, it’s a danger game due to such a good performance last weekend and they need to back that up with another good performance this weekend.

Coota’s 18s have beaten Albury and lost to Kangaroos before defeating Young which shows that there could be good things to come, however, with some clubs not having an 18s, it will be hard for any of the teams to build really good momentum. The only solace being, every club is in the same boat.

Let’s hope that the Coota Bulldogs 16s and 18s will be able to play at home at Fisher Park this year in front of their senior sides, in what would be a showcase of Cootamundra Rugby League and a return to something more similar to the days of Group 9, where 16s and 18s followed their senior counterparts around the country side of the South West Slopes and the Riverina. After all these years and 100 years of Rugby League, one would think the club might deserve it. Especially this group of young men, who if lost to the game, weaken Coota’s chances of returning to Group 9 in the future. Group 9 needs to be as competitive as possible for everyone.