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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Future stars and hardened heads clash in reserve grade decider
After 140 matches over the past six months the Canterbury Cup NSW will reach its apex on Sunday afternoon as the Newtown Jets face the Wentworthville Magpies for the right to be crowned premiers.
Pitting the seventh-placed Jets against the eighth-placed Magpies in a battle between two Sydney clubs steeped in rugby league history, the match will be the first reserve grade grand final to be played at Bankwest Stadium.
Finishing the regular season in seventh position, the Newtown Jets will be out to make amends after going down to Canterbury on grand final day last year.
Naming a 23-man squad including nine members of the team beaten 18-12 at Leichardt Oval twelve months ago, the Jets can expect a strong turnout from their loyal supporter base as they chase their first reserve grade title since 2012.
Downing Mounties (44-20), North Sydney (30-28) and St George Illawarra (22-20) to secure their place in the grand final, the Sharks feeder team will be full of confidence having won their past six matches leading into Sunday's decider.
Fielding 12 players with a combined first grade experience of 571 appearances - including NRL premiership winner Jayson Bukuya and former Kiwi international Greg Eastwood - long-serving Newtown coach Greg Matterson will have his side prepared for a physical match set to be decided in the dying stages.
Producing a golden six-week run to qualify for the grand final from eighth position, the Wentworthville Magpies will be determined to cap off a memorable year by claiming the ultimate rugby league prize.
Serving as the Eels feeder team since 2008, the Magpies have earned their way to the grand final the hard way after accounting for Penrith (34-16), Canterbury (26-20) and South Sydney (35-10) in three do-or-die finals.
Coached by veteran mentor Rip Taylor, Wenty will field a side boasting over 750 games of first grade experience headlined by former New Zealand international Josh Hoffman and departing forward Tim Mannah.
Complementing the side's healthy dose of seasoned professionals, emerging talents such as Ethan Parry, Jaeman Salmon and Stefano Utoikamanu will have their sights set on securing time in the top grade next season with starring performances.
Aiming to record their first reserve grade premiership since defeating Newtown in an epic 104-minute extra time decider 11 years ago, Sunday will serve as a bittersweet moment for the Magpies with Parramatta opting to field a reserve grade team under the Eels identity next season.
Round 13 - Newtown Jets 22 Wentworthville Magpies 10
Round 4 - Wentworthville Magpies 42 Newtown Jets 10
Who to watch: Set to become the Sharks first choice hooker next season, Blayke Brailey will be hoping to make his final appearance for the Jets a memorable one. Playing 15 games in first grade predominantly off the bench in partnership with older brother, Jayden, the 21-year-old rake has shown plenty of class since returning to the Newtown ranks with his work rate transforming the side from early season battlers to grand finalists. Facing off against journeyman Matt McIlwrick in a key personal duel on Sunday afternoon, Brailey shapes as the player most capable of etching the Jets of 2019 into the annals of rugby league history.
Splitting his time between NRL and Canterbury Cup this season, 20-year-old outside back Jaeman Salmon shapes as a pivotal player for the Magpies on Sunday afternoon. Showing glimpses of promise as a centre, playmaker and interchange utility, the De La Salle junior will be determined to make his mark against the Jets as he vies to secure a permanent place in first grade going forward. Crossing for a crucial try after halftime in last week's win over South Sydney, look for Salmon to make a similar impact at Bankwest Stadium as the Magpies fight to claim their first reserve grade premiership in 11 years.
The favourite: Having suffered the heartache of coming up short on grand final day last year, the Jets are favoured to turn their pain into premiership gain.
My tip: While both sides have defied the odds to make it to grand final day, the emotion of sending off two Parramatta stalwarts in Tim Mannah and David Gower should see Wentworthville come away with a hard-fought victory. Magpies by 10.