AFTER being rewarded for his good form for Chatswood Junior Rugby Club through selection to the Gordon Highlanders U14 boys’ rep team, Masada College student Zac McNeil and his side proved they are the best in NSW, winning the closest Junior Rugby State Championships grand final in recent memory in Orange earlier this month.
Following strong wins in the tournament over Warringah, Manly, Illawarra and Northern Suburbs, the Highlanders faced the in-form ACT Brumbies in the cold, wet and windy decider.
McNeil – a powerful and fast number 8 who is also handy in the second row – scored three tries in the preliminary rounds, and played for the majority of the grand final, which Gordon won 22-17 in an absolute thriller.
The Highlanders led 19-17 at half-time, and held off wave after wave of attacking raids by the boys from Canberra in the second half through an incredible defensive effort.
A successful penalty attempt after the full-time siren secured them the trophy.
McNeil joined in his side’s huddle after the match as the Gordon boys sang their team song with pride.
Thrilled with the result, he said “everyone involved is still excited” more than a week later.
Gordon’s coach Martyn Slocombe said, “There was some really stiff competition in this age group across the state, so we knew it would be tough. It [the grand final performance] was a gutsy effort, and as a coach, I’m very proud of the boys.
“They play as a team – they’re not the biggest, but we teach them to play smart, and they just play the game in the best spirit.”