Manly Marlins U/15s are the NSW State Junior Rugby champions after beating Southern Districts 20-5 in the grand final at St Lukes Fields, Concord on Monday.
The team was undefeated in seven games across the three-day tournament, scoring 24 tries and conceding just three.
Head coach Peter Gibson said he and assistant coach Luke Donnan were “immensely proud” of a group of boys they’ve been coaching since U/10s.
“They’re a really tight group, skilful and fit,” Gibson said.
“Luke and I always said, ‘if you guys play to your potential we don’t think anyone will come close’.
“And they didn’t.”
Well, Gordon Highlanders did, at least on the scoreboard which read 12-0. And Western Sydney Two Blues weren’t far off in the semi-final, going down 12-5.
Otherwise it was Manly boom-boom all long weekend.
Gibson credits defence, scrum, skill and humility.
“The boys’ defence was amazing. Watch a couple of the games back on Cluch TV, they tackled everything.
“And our scrum was immense. We dominated every scrum we played against even though we were often beaten for size, particularly by Souths and Two Blues. But we instilled great technique at set piece.
“There were times we were under pressure and won scrums against the head. It lifted the entire team,” Gibson said.
Best for Manly across the tournament were No.8 John Gerich and co-captains Joe Walsh (No.10) and Jay Harris (lock).
“Joe and Jai marshalled the boys really while John was a hugely positive influence at team talks.
“And Joey would be the most skilful junior footballer I’ve ever seen,” Gibson said.
A piece of Walsh brilliance in the opening fixture against Norths resulted in one of the tries of the tournament. The No.10 chipped over the defensive line, outside-centre Alex Truman caught the ball on the fly before dishing inside to No.12 Charlie Poynton for the score.
Gerich, meanwhile, clinched the tight semi-final against Two Blues with a classic No.8 try from the back of the scrum.
Yet it wasn’t so much the winning that most satisfied Gibson and Donnan but how their charges held themselves.
It didn’t go un-noticed. A parent from the Hunter U/15s, whose tent was next to the Marlins’, took time to write to Manly Junior Rugby Union.
“Not only were Manly the best side from start to finish but they displayed sportsmanship and humility throughout the weekend.
“I had the pleasure of talking with a few of the boys while watching the games and found them to all to be fine young men.
“Congratulations on the title and the character of the players your club is producing,” the parent said.
It’s believed to be the first time Manly Marlins have won the U/15 state title.
Twenty-three of the 25-member squad are from the newly-formed Manly Savers junior rugby club.
Gibson and Donnan have been coaching the group since U/10s. They took them to New Zealand. They took them to the semi-finals of the U/13 state championships in 2019 when they were third behind ACT Brumbies and Victoria.
Both men will confess to being competitive. Yet there’s a holistic streak in their coaching, too.
“It’s not just about winning but how we win and how we hold ourselves,” Gibson said. “We stressed that humility is really important for us. This was a fantastic reward for a lot of hard work.”
22-0 v Norths
12-5 v Gordon
26-0 v Central Coast
33-5 v Central West
22-0 v Warringah. QF
12-0 v Two Blues. SF
20-5 v Southern Districts. GF