Orange City coach Fletcher Niven has been “absolutely blown away” by the way his young troops have handled the jump from under 17s to colts this year, and he’s hoping they step up again in this weekend’s Blowes Clothing Cup colts major semi-final.
The young Lions – most of whom have at least a year left in colts, assuming it stays at under 20s – face minor premiers Dubbo Kangaroos at Endeavour Oval on Saturday, for the right to progress straight to the 2018 grand final.
“We’ve only got four or five guys who are actually colts age, under 20s, and the rest have stepped up from under 17s last year in a big way. I’ve been really impressed with the way they’ve handled it, and the toughness they’ve shown,” Niven said.
“This weekend will be tough, Dubbo are a good side and they’ll have a few guys coming back from first grade.”
Niven’s referring to the likes of Jack Jones, Hamish Smith and Pat Berryman, who have spent plenty of time in Dubbo’s top grade, the latter is also a NSW Country colt.
The Lions have their fair share of guns with first grade experience too though, and also boast a trio of Cockatoos colts in Nick Fisher, Hayden Goodall and Hayden Leopold.
“I mean, we do have to remember that our first grade side wasn’t that strong this year but that experience is (positive), a lot of our backline have had their chance in first grade,” Niven said, before referring to his side’s outside men as “red-hot”.
Leopold, Lachie Lingley, Jack Connors, Tom West, Nick Smith and Darcy Holmes all spent time in the top grade and will line up in the Lions’ backline this weekend.
“Sometimes you look at a backline and think ‘there’s a weak link there’, there isn’t here,” Niven said.
“They’re all very, very good players and I have absolutely zero worries about what they’ll produce.”
Of course, that leads to the question of how the Lions’ forwards compare to their Dubbo counterparts.
Although he admitted his piggies have been guilty of “falling asleep” at times this year, Niven said when they’re on, they’re on in a big way.
“They’re young, it’s a young pack, and we have taken the foot off the gas at times. But they’ve never been dominated, they’ve always matched it with the other packs or dominated themselves,” Niven said.
All that combined with a couple of real shows of character during the year gives Niven confidence.
“Dubbo gave us a bit of a touch-up early in the season but we went over there with the bare minimum, 15, and almost pulled off a win. Then when they came back here both sides had just two reserves, and we got a bonus point win,” Niven said.
“We went to Bathurst after that and got another bonus point win down there over Bulldogs so it’s started coming together in the back end of the year, although it’s been a frustrating year having only the four sides, that makes it really tough in colts.
“Honestly, as long as these guys play to their potential I’ll be happy, win or lose. Obviously I’d rather the win though.”
Kick-off at Endeavour Oval is at 11.20am.