U15 Junior Development League Grand final between Swifts and Karalee/Lowood.
U15 Junior Development League Grand final between Swifts and Karalee/Lowood. Cordell Richardson

Stagnadoes a united force

THE Karalee/Lowood Stagnadoes under 15s donned the jerseys of both clubs as the joint squad lit up Junior Development Final Day with its 14-12 come-from-behind victory over the Swifts Bluebirds.

The result marked the culmination of a season of toil in which a special group of young men came together, set aside their differences and formed lasting bonds in pursuit of a common goal.

Thrust together due to a lack of numbers, the side comprising talent from Karalee and Lowood had to overcome much adversity but players have taken it in their stride, continually learned and grown immeasurably.

Those unbreakable connections forged in the fires of battle will stay with the boys for a lifetime. On Sunday, that uncompromising spirit proved the difference as the composite outfit displayed its mettle to mow down Swifts after being down 12-6 at the break.

Manager Michelle Roberton said securing the development final triumph represented a season of hopes and dreams, and meant everything to the boys.

"Throughout their playing careers most football players wish and dream to go to a grand final, and win," she said.

"And that's what they did. I think they just decided that they wanted it more than Swifts."

Powerful front rower and co-captain Blake Thompson cut an inspirational figure. The Lowood footballer was enormous before going down injured late. He earned man of the match honours.

However, reversing the half-time ledger required every youngster to rise. This performance epitomised teamwork.

Remarkably, the Stagnadoes pulled off the comeback without their experienced coach Heath Tiley who had family commitments in Perth.

Greg Free stepped into the role for the decider. He was an apt replacement as three years ago he coached the first team formed by a merger of Lowood and Karalee.

Throughout the season, the side trained at Karalee one week and Lowood the next. It took part in off-field events and functions at both clubs and also alternated jerseys.

Granted special permission by Rugby League Ipswich, the Stagnadoes sported the colours of each of their original clubs for a half of football during the decisive encounter.

Roberton said telling diehard footballers that they would have to wear the colour of a fierce rival could be thwart with difficulty, while synchronising game plans and calls, and solving logistics surrounding training also posed challenges. But she said the Stagnadoes had shown maturity beyond their years, a willingness to extend beyond their comfort zones, accept others into their footy family and form their own identity as a team.

"They are all there to play footy," she said.

"They all really love the game and have a passion for it. At the end of the day they got themselves working as a machine."

Roberton praised the outstanding job coach Tiley did in uniting the squad and extracting the best from each player.

She said it had been an amazing journey witnessing the young men develop and form relationships across the season.

"For me and my husband, our son was playing his last game, so for us, to be out on the field and share in a grand final win was phenomenal," she said.

."Although all of these boys are like my own kids."

Roberton said a positive culture had been fostered and the successful merger was an example of two little country footy clubs working together to ensure the boys got on the paddock and build rugby league at a grass roots level.

State of Play

RLI Junior Development finals.

Under 13: Swifts 24 (Oliva Smith 2, Liam Wilson, Harrison Sheedy, Caleb Thomas tries; Lachlan Allwood 2 conversions) def Norths Blue 20 (Caleb Brown 4 tries; Ethan Court 2 conversions).

Under 14: Karalee 12 (Clayton Kemp, Nicholas McKay tries; Ethan Sadler 2 conversions) def Lowood 10 (Dylan Marschke, Oliver Ware tries; Kurtis Smith 1 conversion).

Under 15: Karalee/ Lowood 14 (River Free, William Nichols, Coby Gatfield tries; Samuel Pawluczyk 1 conversion) def Swifts 12 (Braydyn Kelly,Joshua Bond tries; Damon Loy 2 conversions).

Under 16: West End 24 (Andrew Sufia 2, Clarence Fesolai, Titan Tiananga, Tevita Taufa tries; Mason Pintegne 2 conversions) def Springfield 20 (Caesi Jackson, Daniel Arkins, Denzel Samoa, Kaiah Morris tries; Kaiah Morris 2 conversions).

Under 18: Swifts 34 (Dominic Thomas 2, Preston O'Donohue, Anthony Bell 2, Lachlan McQueen tries; Lachlan McQueen 2, Anthony Bell 3 conversions) def Brothers 10 (Kodi Hill, Mitchell McCauley tries; Kodi Hill 1 conversion).

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