NTL 2019 Preview

The 2019 National Touch League takes place in Coffs Harbour from Wednesday 13 March with Finals Day on Saturday 16 March, with Sydney Scorpions sending 11 teams.  With the NRL Touch Premiership now in full-swing there is no Elite 8 division, meaning that the elite divisions at this event will be the Men’s, Women’s & Mixed Open.  In the Champion Permit Golden Boot stakes the Sydney Scorpions and the South Queensland Sharks are both locked at 7 titles each. The annual Scorpions Dinner will take place on Friday 15 March at Coffs C-ex Club with the usual awards presented including; Junior and Senior Coaches of the Year, Manager of the Year, Referee of the Year.  Additionally, we will see a few new inductees in the Scorpions Hall of Fame which was introduced two years ago. As a nice touch all Scorps new Inferno design playing shrts will have the names of all our Hall of Fame inductees printed on the playing numbers.  As we look towards another successful campaign and preview each of thedivisions, a quick thanks to the fabulous Zoe Zinetti and Collette Richie who have done an excellent job as usual as part of the TFA NTL events team.

In the Men’s Open division, a very young team will embark on Coffs aiming to gain invaluable experience at the top level.  In what is expected to be an extremely competitive division the team will be guided by coaches Brad Curl, Jason Martin and Matt Lawson.  The group will look to the leadership of Matt Swain and others including Jaycob Fong, Zac Simons and Keeley Bowen all of whom have come through the Scorpions Junior Regional ranks. Brendan Robertson made his successful Scorps NTL debut last season.  Add to that the three Sam’s in Edgley, Watkins and Kelley plus Dallas Patterson and there is obvious talent in this team.

It’s a time of opportunities in the Women’s Open division with Scorpions welcoming many young ladies ready to step up to the open division after doing their time in T-League and through the junior ranks.  Elesha Te Paa is captain of the team and her leadership on and off the field will be immense. Coaches Roha Paki, Anthony Dudeck and Craig Beacroft have a lot of experience between them and will be after a bold showing.  Players to watch include Olivia Steer who is no doubt a star on the rise, along with Aaliyah Paki, Nicole Saldern and Simone Rodgers who is argulably one of the most under-rated players in the Women’s game.  Add to that the speed and grit of Tatum Bird along with young guns Bella Geros and Kiiahla Duff and you’ve got yourself a solid line-up.

Scorpions are back in the Mixed Open division with a number of the all-conquering NSW Scorpions Elite 8 Women’s team trying their hand at this divison with Sarah Peattie, Steph Maiolo (Australia World Cup Mixed Open rep), Shellie Davis and others on-board.  One of the top female players in the game Ash Quinlan returns in the Scorps colours after playing Junior Regionals many years ago.  Add to that some very handy male players including Aussie rep Jackson Mills, Connor Hickey and Casey Shelley.  In a coaching ranks Barry Gibson is at the helm with one of the best technical coaches in the game at his side in Justin Creighton (Australian World Cup Mixed Open Assistant Coach).  These coaches don’t do anything by halves so this will be an interesting division to keep an eye on.

Scorps Senior Mixed are a new look team this NTL and much thanks needs to go to Simon Kowald for persisting and getting this team off the ground.  Player coaches Terry Joe and Shannon Warren have this talented team ready to go after a lengthy and focused campaign. Johanne Joe and Claire Hole lead a group of talented female players which in the mixed game usually goes a long way to determining a teams success at the tournament. Teams are set to play each other at least twice in this division, and add to that the final series.  As a result coaching smarts could really play a big part with Scorps looking strong in that department.  Stephen Day is a try scoring machine and Taga Paa will be electric in this division.

In the Men’s 30’s division, after a successful winning campaign in 2018, the team are raring to go back to back in what looks more like a Men’s Open than 30’s line-up.  In last year’s Grand Final the team were down 8-2 at half time, only to come home like a Hornsby freight train, turning it into an exciting drop off 9-8 memorable victory against the Scotty Prince led Sharks.  The team are very excited to announce super stars John and Maurice Kennedy are playing along with Georgie “the world’s best winger” Palau, just watch the sparks fly. Anything other than a Grand Final would be underperforming for this great bunch of athletes.

Men’s 40s are returning to defend the title they won last year. The South Queensland Sharks return to this division providing further quality opposition. Scorps will be relying on Tony Eltakchi who is racing the clock to be fit, along with and Darren Reynoldson who is arguably the best current Men’s 40’s player in the game. The ever-reliable Chris “Rowdy” Benfield will also give a quality contribution (including the KFC bucket at the end of the tournement). Other players to watch are Scorps Hall of Famers Phil Jarrett and Dean Murphy who are returning to NTL after not playing in 2018.  There are many Queensland teams who continue to improve so the team under Rocket Ron will need to perform at their best to retain the title.

Scorpions Women’s 40s finished 3rd last year, losing the semi-final yet again to Hornets in a drop off.  Vicki Humpherson, Scorpions Hall of Fame member, brings a wealth of experience to the team yet again.  The team is led by captain Gloria Berryman who has plenty of NTL experience in many divisions.  With four fresh faces to the team to add youth and speed the teams goal is to take home the champion trophy in 2019.  The Women’s 45’s are this season coached by the knowledgeable and passionate Phil McIlwraith.  Katrina McIlwraith and Monique Nolan will be no doubt adding their input and players to watch include Michelle Smidt, Carol Forlonge and Mel Harrison.

The Men’s 45’s enter this year’s NTL supremely confident of a top 6 finish, and whilst their cavalcade of stars such as Fong, Chan, Bali and Spud are unlikely to be the only four letter words the coach drops over the course of the tournament.  An improvement on last year’s Grand Final drop-off loss to the Sharks is within their powers if the touch gods smile.  Tournament rules prevent these thoroughbreds being let out of the stable more than twice a day, so mark them in your calendar if you don’t want to miss the show.  In addition to the quadrumvirate above, expect big things from Kalms, Michniewicz and Dudeck who will all provide speed, guile and beauty (admittedly in varying proportions) to the squad.   Leaving nothing to chance the team have bolstered their ranks by successfully luring coach Nhut Trinh out of semi-retirement to assist with the chalkboard and bring a veneer of composure to the sideline (just watch the casual head nod in action).

Last year’s winners in the Men’s 50s division are a side bristling with talent and they have rejigged the team after the gutsy performance to win the final in a 4 v 4 drop-off in 2018.  The team carries the usual strong performers led by Kitchingham and including Duguid, Gillard, McDonald and Wandl.  This group is ably backed up by the likes of Marks, Simons, Kritikarkis & Stratham who all add devastating speed to this side, these are the players to watch this year for the excitement they create.  Once again this side are looking for a Grand Final finish. Nothing but a win will do for this team.  In the Men’s 55’s Cliffy Lyons returns with his trusty troops and would have to be close to favourites to take out this division yet again.  Dave Cheung and Phil Young are always big contributors to this team along with Michael Hardgrave and of course the Sea Eagles legend that is Napper Lyons.

In the Scorps referee ranks Bill Slade takes the lead yet again with some experienced whistle blowers ready to take the field at Coffs Harbour.  Luke Saldern is a quality referee and in the top 10 nationally.  Also in the Scorps ranks for this NTL are 2017 Referee of the Year Paul Khoudair and Angela Budai who is a referee on the rise. Not forgetting the Scorps Medical team who will have the tough job of keeping all Scorpions able to take the field.  The team from 2018 are back including Nathan Duguid, Emma Williams, Garry Heskett and Robyn Walsh.  Michael Donaghy, Scorpions Sports Scientist, will be making his debut at NTL and his knowledge and experience will be aligned to the Men’s and Women’s Open teams.  Tour Leader Stuart Geros is back after leading the region to victory in 2018 and we also welcome Baxography for our action photos this year plus NRL Films who will be doing some production filming for Scorps so be ready to smile!

Good luck to all involved in what promises to be yet another fantastic National Touch League. Go Scorps!