Under 11 Season Review - by Matty Taurima, U11 Coach

I'm sitting here writing this review two days out from the biggest game of the season for the team, semi-final 1 Palmy vs Cougars.  Win or lose isn't the question, the question is do we deserve to win, and the answer is most definitely yes. As my team will tell you winning or losing doesn't really faze me, to me, and what I have attempted to drill into this team is attitude, it's the most important attribute a young, or old, sports person can have, and the Palmy Crocs under 11s have bucket loads.

Now I'm not a stats man but it will give you an idea of what I'm talking about, Round 1-6 for/against 27/220. Round 7-13 for/against 145/145.  You don't have to be a stats man to grasp the improvement.  I put this turn events down to four things.

1. The newbies

Our new boys were such an outstanding and needed addition to our team. 

To everyone who watched Jags first game it was obvious he came from an AFL background.  Jags ended up being an integral part of our team so much so when he wasn't around chaos broke out.  A great kid who worked his butt off to learn the skills necessary to compete with the backlines we were facing, he did it with ease.  He also became feared amongst his opponents because of his ability to run hard and tackle harder.  Jags has the support and attitude to go along way and will, I'm sure.            

There's no coincidence when Marlon came along about a third way through the season we started scoring more tries and winning.  A naturally gifted boy whom I wish I had more time with one on one.  Apart from being naturally gifted Marlon was also humble, for all the things he could do that others couldn't, like score from nowhere, pick up a crappy pass off his bootlaces or a metre above his head he never boasted or scolded his mates.  You're a weapon mate and I hope to see you next year.

Cedric only managed to lace up four or five times and I can't help but wonder what could have happened with more time.  It must run in the family because Cedric is also a naturally gifted boy and I saw evidence of a superstar.   A lean mean boy who I know could be deadly.

Azaan's dedication to his craft this year did not go unnoticed, an excellent sub who never whinged.   Azzan always came to training with the attitude I demanded and this showed in his development.  Great season!

2.  The 2014 under 9s

The soldiers who stepped up from the under 9s were awesome and I'd like to thank their past coach for handing me a bunch of kids that were well trained.  It took a couple of games for the boys to get use to the extra space on the field but in the end they all stood up and became good hard players, committed to the team spirit culture we had already developed and hungry for knowledge.   

Connor was one player I could count on to turn up with the right attitude all the time.  When everyone else would have their head down Connor was the one who would come of the defensive line, shout encouragement from the sideline and try and organise things when someone was of guard.  I love the fact you love our game to the death, it's what drives old fellas like me to keep playing, refereeing and basically be involved.

Aaron had some great performances this year and you know when he's enjoying himself because he's got a smile as big as the ball.  He always gave 100% and that's all I could ask. An excellent team man who always pushed for a starting spot.

Haydo was one of our most consistent players.  Ball in hand probably the most devastating runner in our team and a total lack of respect for his body in defence.  It was awesome watching you glide across a rugby field, the skies the limit for this guy!

Jet was one of our best players all year.  A lot of opposition underestimated him in the first round, let's say they learnt from their mistakes.  Such a fantastic year despite playing guys and girls twice sometimes three times your size, pound for pound best player in the team.  A great attitude and a bright future, I wouldn't be surprised to hear Jet's name as the second rugby International half back to come out of Palmy. 

3.  The veterans

The first couple of games I really hammered these guys.  I asked them to step up as the senior players and take some ownership of this team.  Well it took a couple of games but every single one of them should be proud of their commitment, attitude, fortitude and most of all leadership.  The growth over two years not just as rugby players but as kids is a credit not to me but your mums and dads. 

One of the reasons I love this game is because all shapes, sizes, colours and sexes have a place.  To me Lily is a perfect example of this.  She's not big, fast or strong but what she does have is an excellent grasp of the game and the heart of a lion.  That's what makes a good junior player, physical aspects can be worked on, fine-tuned under the right guidance but you can't coach passion and courage.

Beau has been another one of our top players.  Hearty defence, great work ethic and always improving because of his ability to listen, a very rare skill with kids these days.  What has impressed me the most though, is that two years ago you had to strangle a conversation out of him, he can now look his team mates and I in the eye and say what he wants.  A great team player and a great kid.

Daniel has shown me this year there is a caged lion in there.  The times he's let that lion out he's been close to the best on the field.  Daniel has put a lot of hard work into his job as a front rower, all the fun stuff like scrums, lineouts, rucks and mauls.  The team has benefited from this big time and we've all enjoyed your sense of humour, great year bud.

Alex has been a pleasure to coach.  A super consistent player in both defence and attack, I always know she will give me what I ask and expect.  I wanted to challenge Alex this year by giving her more responsibility in the back line and I think she loved it.
Me... "These boys are dumb, they keep getting sucked into the forwards, then what happens"
Alex... "They come wide and no one's there"
Me... "Exactly, so it's your job to keep them out in formation, don't care what you have to do"
Alex... "Yes Matty"
These were the types of conversations we had and she did a fantastic job at dealing with her fellow backs.  This is what made our back line better, her leadership through her actions but most of all her ability to quietly persuade the boys where they needed to be and when.  They probably don't know what she was doing but I did, great job.

I bought Chase into the forwards about round 5 and he made an immediate impact earning himself a man of the match and featuring regularly in the point's award system for his first few games.  In every good forward pack there's usually a work horse that goes unnoticed, Chase was that man.  Great achievement mate you were one of the best players all year and have improved beyond comprehension!

Wiremu has had an outstanding season.  He lead from the front and displayed the skill and attitude needed to be a person respected by his team mates and feared by his opponents.  I asked the team to privately vote for their best forward, best back and best player towards the end of the season.  The amount of votes Wiremu got is a testament to the calibre of rugby and the manner in which he has lead his forward pack around the ground all year, great stuff.

The past two years the Palmy under 11 Crocs have had problems getting enough backs.    Because of this Tristan had to play where he was needed not where he should have played and I thank T for this.  When circumstances allowed T to come back to the forwards not only was I impressed by his performances, I was ecstatic to see him enjoying his rugby and showing his potential.  Now I know he knows I know he knows how good he is but he doesn't know how good he could be.  I said last year that he's the most talented junior rugby player I've seen at Palmy and I stand by that this year, a bit more focus and the rugby world is his oyster.  The team owes him a lot for playing out of position when needed, but in the process he has earned the respect of his team mates and me.  This was very satisfying considering his ability to frustrate us all at times with his ability to do the complete opposite to the instructions, usually resulting in team punishment.  This coincides with my favourite moment of the year.  It's the final round of the season and we are up against a monstrous Pirate's squad.   Almost double our size I would estimate.  It's the second half and we are down by about a try despite the team giving it to them.  T takes a head knock and goes down like a sack of spuds tears rolling down his face.  His team mates rally around him and instantly, the mood changes.  Imagine a buffalo standing on the side of the Adelaide River with twelve crocs waiting for him to fall in.  That's what it was like, the look in the teams eyes were that of payback for their mate who was reluctantly pulled of the field.  The Pirates decide to tap and run following a penalty and let's just say the poor bugger was smashed and we turned the ball over and for the rest of the game we absolutely gave it to them.  Despite losing, it was the best game of rugby I have seen from a team of underdogs, bar none.  I knew that night I didn't have a team of champions but a champion team.

If there was an award for most improved, Jesse most certainly would get it.  Jesse has been my man this year and it hasn't surprised me.  Once he believed it was all over.  He achieved this through dedication and hard work.  He played every match, attended every training, even in the school holidays, with the can do attitude and killed it.  Jesse is now one of the best players in the team, recognised not only by me but more importantly by his team mates, and he deserves all the accolades he gets, great season champ!

4.  Team spirit

These guys got smashed in the first game of the season 69-0!  I wouldn't blame them for moving onto league or some other inferior code, no, they stuck around, worked their butts off and in the process became a tight bunch of mates.  And that is the achievement of the year.  This was evident at our little social night half way through the year.  As a dad and a coach it made me proud to see such a happy bunch of kids, no fights or arguments, just fun and games.  This is what they can take away from 2015. 

No matter what happens in two nights our achievements as a team will stand forever.  The Palmy under 11s of 2015 should be proud of this whether there is a trophy in the cabinet or not.

In conclusion and on behalf of the kids and I, we would like to thank Ben and Selina and the committee for their support throughout the year, super coach Lenny for running the sidelines and all the mums and dads that allowed us to play the game we love.  Last but not least to our fantastic manager Mel and co-pilot (Dean) for all the behind the scenes work you did to keep the clock ticking over, thank you.