Big hits, scintillating skills and electric footwork were on the menu in Rotorua this week as the best under-15 and under-17 rugby league players in the country charged into battle at Puketawhero Park.
The Youth Rugby League Tournament plays a crucial role in helping to develop the next generation of stars and there were Wai-Coa-Bay sides entered in both age groups.
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The common focus for the Wai-Coa-Bay Stallion under-15 and under-17 coaches this week was developing good young men as well performing on the field.
The under-15s finished second in their pool with two wins and a loss to book a spot in the semifinals. They lost their semifinal 32-8 to the Akarana Falcons which left them to playoff for third place against the South Island Scorpions.
The third-place playoff was a thriller, finishing 16-all and going to golden point. However, it was the Scorpions who held their nerve and iced a field goal to win, consigning the Stallions to fourth.
Wai-Coa-Bay under-15 coach Alex Parker said his side did all they could and he could not be more proud of the effort they put in.
"Our whole week and our whole campaign has been based around effort. We break that effort into certain areas in our performance and that's all you can ask for, just that we go out there, our hearts are in the right place and we're doing things as well as we can.
"It's hard on day five, it was a challenge for us, after a big week to get up for this game. I challenged them at halftime with that as well and these tournaments are another level up and there are new pressures for the boys.
"The whole week I've been really proud of how they've risen to the challenge and not just looked in place at this level but actually excelled at this level."
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Parker said the tournament was "really competitive".
"That's what we want, that's one of the things we need in New Zealand rugby league. At this level we need it to be really competitive and the more hard games and hard competitions we can have, the better.
"We knew it would be like that coming in and that's exactly what it was, it was a tough tournament."
He said developing the players off the field was just as important to him and the coaching staff as developing them on the field.
"We talked about what it means to be a Stallion off the field first and they have just been amazing. They carry themselves so well, they represent their whānau, clubs and districts so well. It's been an absolute pleasure."
Meanwhile, the Wai-Coa-Bay under-17 side were unable to make the semifinals, but got up on Saturday to beat the Auckland Vulcans 28-18 in the fifth-place playoff.
Wai-Coa-Bay under-17 coach Eugene Davis said it was a tough tournament, with some disappointing results, but the team finished on a high.
"We had a few expectations that we sort of didn't reach this campaign but it was important that we finished well. It was always a hard one to take when we didn't make it to the top four but as coaches you need to support the boys to get up for these sorts of games.
"I pay tribute to a lot of my leadership players, the leadership players actually sustained the momentum and the strength within the team to turn up today as if they did on the first day."
He said the boys played with "Stallion mana" to win the fifth-place playoff and a positive from the tournament was the way they handled themselves off the field.
"In a campaign like this, you're spending a whole five or six days together so it's very important to gel. We had a good system going on in terms of combining down time, analysis time, fun time and brotherhood time. That was big.
"We have some young players, we have some really good men and we're trying to support them to be good men as well as good players," Davis said.
National youth rugby league tournament placings
1st Akarana Falcons
2nd Counties Manukau Stingrays
3rd South Island Scorpions
4th Wai-Coa-Bay Stallions
5th Auckland Vulcans
6th Central Vipers
7th Wellington Orcas
8th Northern Swords
1st Counties Manukau Stingrays
2nd South Island Scorpions
3rd Akarana Falcons
4th Central Vipers
5th Wai-Coa-Bay Stallions
6th Auckland Vulcans
7th Wellington Orcas
8th Northern Swords