By BOB ANTHONY
THE strength of any competition lies with its juniors.
There has been plenty of attention focused on the state of senior grades in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League, but it's a completely different story in the under-18s, according to assistant representative coach Peter Smith.
Smith made the comments yesterday following the announcement of the 20-player squad to represent the Northern Rivers in the NSW Country Challenge competition which kicks off in May.
Eight Tweed players will be among the youngest Northern Rivers squad for quite a while.
"We have 11 boys in the squad that will be eligible to play for us again next year, that's how young the team is," Smith said.
Players from the Tweed include Shane Ryan and Chris Sommerville, from South Tweed, Steve Darby and Tim Foster, from Murwillumbah, and Luke Kraus, Strath Johnson, Luke Dumas and Steve Carson from Cudgen.
Together with head coach Wayne Cullen and skills coach Rudi Miers, Smith will have six weeks to prepare the side to defend its title.
The squad was selected after a Possibles versus Probables trial in Mullumbimby on Sunday, and Smith said it represented a good balance of outstanding forwards and backs with plenty of speed.
About half the squad had been signed to the Titans development group, he said.
"A lot of the players have come through from the Northern Rivers Rugby League Academy which received great support from the Gold Coast Titans," Smith said.
Titans coach John Cartwright was on hand on Sunday to present selected players with their shirts.
"Having the Titans involved and the young guys knowing they are there has seen almost record numbers of boys turning up for our representative trials," Smith said.
He said the NRRRL could expect a great under-18 competiton this year, with most of the teams very evenly matched and no real standouts prior to the start of the season.
Smith said the rugby league academy had been a great positive for the young players, especially on a representative level.
"We had John Carwright involved in that and he has told us that it (the academy) was as good as any junior NRL camp he had been involved in," Smith said.
Training commences for the Northern Rivers under-18 squad this Friday at Mullumbimby Leagues Club from 6pm.
The Northern Rivers' first game of the Country Challenge will be against Central Coast on the Central Coast on May 13.