Young Rebel set for dream debut

YOU would be hard-pressed to find a more excited member of the Newcastle Rugby League representative side than Marco Delapena.

The 21-year-old Maitland utility will be living out a dream today when he plays off the bench for the Rebels against Central Coast in the semi-finals of the Country Divisional Championships at Cessnock Sportsground.

In just 12 months, the Morpeth junior has broken into the Pickers first-grade side, won a grand final and been picked to represent Newcastle.

‘‘It was a big shock for me, being so young, I just didn’t think it would happen,’’ Delapena said. ‘‘Last year it was my first-grade debut so I wasn’t really that confident, but now I’ve played a full year in first grade I’m more confident in myself and what my role is in first grade now.’’

Delapena’s ability to play wing and in the back row was his obvious appeal to selectors.

Coach Paul Skovgaard is poised to unleash his pace and size on the edge of the ruck.

A victory today against Central Coast will book Newcastle a spot in the final against the winner of Canberra and Northern Rivers on June 30, at a yet to be determined venue.

The Rebels are hot favourites to win back-to-back titles and provide the bulk of the NSW Country squad, and Delapena would love to be involved.

‘‘I hope I can play good enough to get a Country jersey, that would be a young kid’s dream really,’’ he said. ‘‘I would really like to put that on.’’

Another Rebels player desperate to impress today and earn his first Country jersey is Cessnock prop Brendan Hlad. Along with Kurri Kurri’s Jesse Royal, the Goannas hard man is expected to be the pack leader today.

Hlad has started the season in style with the undefeated Cessnock and is third on player of the year ladder with nine.

‘‘I’m enjoying footy as much as ever and it’s definitely a goal of mine to make Country this year and if I do, I do, and if I don’t I’ve done the best I can,’’ Hlad said.

Central Coast progressed to the semi-finals after their shock 29-22 victory over Illawarra on June 2 at Morry Breen Oval.

Before last year’s loss in the final to Newcastle, the boys from Wollongong had maintained a four-year dominance of the country championships.

Hlad has tasted defeat against Illawarra and said Central Coast definitely deserve the Rebels’ respect after that win.

‘‘There is expectation, we are expected to win it,’’ Hlad said. ‘‘We can’t be complacent ... it’s a funny game, league, things can happen.’’

Today’s game starts at 12.45pm.

Newcastle: 1. Sam Wooden (c), 2. Justin Smith, 3. Simon Williams, 4. Steve Gordon, 5. Chris Pyne, 6. Riley Brown, 7. Jade Porter, 8. Jesse Royal, 9. Terence Seu Seu, 10. Brendan Hlad, 11. Beau Simpson, 12. Jacob Sinclair, 13. Alec Fata. Bench: Marco Delapena, Billy Towers, Dan Metcalf, Mick O’Shea.

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