Young’s Will Munday with Coota’s Mitch Wakeford in neutral territory at Wombat with the South West Fuels Cup on Wednesday morning.

The Cootamundra Tri-Colours will this Saturday be aiming to win back-to-back Central West Rugby premierships when they come up against the Young Yabbies in the South West Fuels Cup grand final.

The 2022 premiership decider will be played at the Cootamundra Rugby Club Oval, with kick-off slated for 3:15pm on Saturday afternoon.

The Tri-Colours have gone through the entire season undefeated, winning 12 games from as many games and collected 10 bonus points along the way to record an impressive 68 competition points and claiming the minor premiership.

Cootamundra also recorded a positive points difference of 476, highlighting their powerful attack and impeccable defence.

Their opponents this weekend in the Yabbies, finished in second position on the 2022 South West Fuels Cup ladder, with nine wins, one draw and two losses, amassing 56 competition points.

Due to both teams finishing one and two on the ladder this season, Cootamundra and Young clashed in the semi-final two weeks ago, with the Tri-Colours booking themselves straight into the grand final with a gritty 20-15 win at Temora Recreation Oval.

In that semi-final, the most recent indicator between the two sides, Angus Forster, Cam Stanley and Corey Nicholson all crossed the paint for the highest-seeded team which propelled them to victory.

Young was then pushed to the other side of the finals bracket, needing to beat the Boorowa Goldies last weekend in the preliminary final which they did convincingly, recording a comprehensive 29-7 victory at Cranfield Oval in Young.

On the two previous occasions Cootamundra and Young faced each other in the home and away season both were tight contests, however, the Tri-Colours prevailed on both occasions.

The Tri-Colours recorded a 22-17 victory at home on July 16th and again earlier in the season winning 29-10 on May 21st at Cranfield Oval. Cootamundra will take confidence in knocking off this weekend’s grand final opponents already three times this season and will be well rested following a week off after their preliminary final win.

Tri-Colours co-coach Mitch Wakeford is hopeful that his side can harness their full potential in this Saturday’s massive grand final clash.

“We’re definitely taking confidence into the game, but we full well that we’re going to have to be 100 per cent on point with everything we do,” Wakeford said.

“Last few times we’ve played Young, they’ve really created a lot of pressure and thrown everything at us. So, if we go out there, and we’re one or two per cent off, they’ll definitely capitalise on it.”

Although undefeated during the 2022 season, Wakeford will ensure that his team is not complacent against a talented Yabbies side and reiterate to his players that it’s just another game.

“We’ve been undefeated throughout the season, which is an achievement in itself, but we’re under no illusion that it’s going to be easy on Saturday,” he said.

“Young were probably the better side for the majority of the game in the semi-final two weeks ago when we played them. So, if anything, that’s definitely put a bit of fire under the boys, and they know that they need to keep working hard, especially with two training sessions to go.

“Young has some great strengths. They have a very physical forward pack, so their set pieces are a big strength of theirs. Obviously, on the back of that, they’ve got a skilful backline led by their number 10 who’s got a great kicking game. So, we’re going to have to be on point with everything we do come
Saturday.”

While acknowledging all that Young will bring to the table come Saturday afternoon, Wakeford also highlighted his side’s features and how they can win the grand final on the weekend.

“I think the biggest thing we’ve worked on this year is probably our defence. Cam [Stanley] and I have been pretty happy with our attack over the last few years, but we’ve definitely got a bit of an edge to us this year in the sense that we don’t like leaking points and if we do, we definitely make teams earn it,” Wakeford continued.

“Secondly, we have to control the controllables. We’re trying not to worry about the referee or things the opposition do, we just need to make sure that we don’t miss our tackles. We secure the ball, and our ball security is good. So, if we control the things that we can control, then that goes a long way to hopefully some success on Saturday.”

There is expected to be a big crowd at Cootamundra Rugby Club Oval on Saturday afternoon for the grand final decider, made up of a parochial home supporter base, as well as passionate travelling Yabbies supporters.

“Barring the weather, we hope to get a big crowd there on Saturday. I know the Bulldogs have got a semi-final on in town as well and the Strikers are playing as well, but hopefully those 50/50 supporters will definitely choose us come the weekend and that the weather holds out.

Saturday’s forecast for Cootamundra is estimated to be a top of 12 degrees with showers, making it a wet and cold affair for typical winter rugby conditions.

Co-coaches Wakeford and Stanley have been putting the Tri-Colours through their paces and made full ad- vantage of their week off last weekend.

“As we won our semi-final, we got last weekend off. We had a pool session last Tuesday for recovery and then Thursday gone we went and did a 45- minute gym session, we then had a good, hard session on Saturday, getting plenty of k’s into the legs before a few boys went and watched the Young/Boorowa game,” Wakeford said.

“On Tuesday night, we really just focused on our skills, set pieces and team run and then definitely the same come Thursday. It’s definitely a lighter load this week but more focusing on our structure and our skills than anything too physical.”

The Tri-Colours will this weekend be aiming to win the Club’s third premiership in the last four years.

Cootamundra were crowned last season’s premiers after being the top-seeded grand final qualifier when the Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdowns forced an abrupt end to the season, however, the boys in red, gold and black will be hoping to win it in person this year.

“It was definitely disappointing the way last year ended with Covid. Obviously, health comes first but there is a little bit of an empty feeling. Of course, I’d rather be given it than Harden been given it, but it left a hollow feeling in the stomach.

“It’s definitely something we’d love to achieve on Saturday and tick off, especially after the way last year ended.”

The Tri-Colours will be going into the game with a healthy, full-strength squad that will be eager to taste premiership glory.

“This will be the first time for the year that we’ve got a full-strength 15. So, we’ve been building pretty nicely.

“We’ve been a bit on and off over our last couple of 80 minutes. With a full-strength team back this week, we’re definitely looking to hope everything gels and that we put our best foot forward come Saturday.”

Cootamundra’s Squad for Saturday’s Grand Final:

1. Mesina Mesake – A crowd favourite, strong scrummager and ball carrier.
2. Isaac Mitchell – Fearless runner of the ball. Plays well above his weight.

3. Gus Forster – Loves the tight stuff and will anchor the scrum.

4. Matt Berkrey – Power runner and hitter in defence, a real X-factor player.
5. Mitch Wakeford – Veteran forward, will work hard and keep the team on task.

6. Paul Wallace – Will do the dirty work, been his best season to date.

7. Cam Stanley – Big game player. Will scavenge and take the game to Yabbies pack.
8. Nemani Neli – An absolute wrecking ball. Best ball carrier in the comp on his day.

9. Jack Hogan – Sniping half who loves a physical contest.
10. Hamish Pennington – Skillful and combative. Needs to steer the ship for 80 minutes.

11. Ropati Fastaui – Always beats the first man and loves to be physical.
12. Jason Cronin – A power runner and calm head. Will get the team over the line.

13. Shaun Helt – A Veteran centre, the cool calm head of the backline.
14. Jimmy Hogan – Young excitement machine. Will look for plenty of work.

15. Paddy Cameron – One of the most dangerous players in the comp. Always backs himself.

16. Corey Nicholson – Loves the grind and the chat, does the hard stuff.
17. Greg Morton – Veteran of the Club. A team man who works hard.

18. Brad Morton – Big body who will look to dent the line when on.
19. Talea Mapasua – Destructive ball runner. Will get physical when on.
20. Anitelea Faliga – Can play anywhere in forwards. Young and energetic.

21. Junior Faafetai – Mr. Fix it. Loves to carry the footy.
22. Sterling Cooper Duck – Fast elusive back with plenty of speed.

23. Leo Malele – Veteran back with slick skills.
24. Jake Demuss – Team favourite. Loves the cold, wet footy.

25. Jayden D’aran – Young and eager, won’t let anyone down when on.
26. Oxy Loco – Fijian royalty, covers 4- 15. Will look to have a big impact.

Coach – Mitch Wakeford / Cam Stanley Assistant coach – Brad Jones
Manager – Paul Clancy
Trainer – Jodie Heggaton

Strapper – John Hogan / Lauren Goldsworthy

Wakeford had one final message to the residents of Cootamundra and supporters of the Tri-Colours prior to this Saturday’s grand final.

“We’d just love to see a big crowd out there Saturday, rain, hail or shine. If we can get a big crowd there, it’ll definitely go a long way to us playing a real tough and hard Young Yabbies side.”

Good luck to the mighty Tri-Colours in the grand final this weekend. Make sure the trophy stays in town!

Tim Warren