Commitments stretch strength of past finalists

UNDER most circumstances it would be a blockbuster.

Last year's under-18 grand finalists, Norths and Brothers, currently sitting third and second on the ladder respectively, meet at Keith Sternberg Oval on Sunday.

But it is their depth that will be stretched as much as their quality, with both teams getting down to bare bones.

The reason is school commitments.

Both teams have suffered all season, owing to heavy representation from Ipswich Grammar School and St Edmund's College, which require students to play rugby union on Saturdays.

But it gets worse this weekend with the Queensland Confraternity titles in Townsville.

"We'll be a bit depleted," Norths under-18 coach Mick Newton said.

"But I think Brothers could be too.

"We'll lose about eight boys.

"But we'll still be able to field a competitive side."

Newton is fortunate Norths have strong numbers, as he has used 32 players this season already.

At no stage has he had his strongest team available.

Instead, he has had to build a team around a core group of available players and rotate those coming in and out.

"We've got a good halves combination at the moment with Mitchell Raines and Spencer Fitzpatrick," Newton said.

"They're getting better each week.

"And Dale McDonald, our captain and hooker, is playing the house down."

On the other side Newton has been hit by the loss of his leading props.

Justin Boisen works Sundays, Ethan Page has been unavailable because of school and Lui Afele is out injured.

Norths' rotation is partly to accommodate the kids with school commitments when they're available.

But it is also to ensure everyone gets a regular run, with Newton conscious of trying to keep everyone happy, however hard it may be.

"A few boys don't know why they're sitting out from week to week," the coach said.

"We're trying to keep the boys interested.

"There's some players here who may not make the Ipswich Jets, but will be good players for Norths in years to come.

"We need to make sure they're hanging around."

Once the Confraternity is over Newton expects to have all but his three Ipswich Grammar students available to launch an attack on the second half of the season.

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