Saturday’s Coastal Premier League clash between Sawtell and Coffs Coast Tigers will be insightful on multiple levels – none more so than it will pit some tightest of mates against one another.
Each side will boast three players from the ‘Golden Generation’ – the North Coast NPL side which won titles in 2017, ’18 and ’19, and last year had their last hurrah in the 16s.
Lining up for the hosts at Toormina will be Jesse Buckle, Will McKinney and Taj Northfield, while the Tigers will have Marcus Field, Jacob Field and Baden Rees at their call.
It will be akin to getting the band back together – though this time the bass players will be on one side of the field and the guitarists on the other.
In an additional ‘rub’ to a compelling clash, Jesse (Sawtell) and the three Tigers cubs all attend the same school, sit together at lunch time and hangout as well socially.
“It’s been different this week. There’s been a lot of chat about the game,” Jesse, a midfielder, said.
As the lone Scorpion in the Tigers Den quadrangle at Coffs Education Campus, Jesse has taken care not to give Saturday’s opponents any additional ammo on the motivation front.
“We all play very similar and the Tigers (Marcus, Jacob and Baden) are very good players so it will be hard to try and stop them,” the 16-year-old said.
The match is also mouth-watering from a CPL viewpoint – with Sawtell and the Coffs Coast both in that twilight of emergence.
“We’ve been really developing this year and it’s just starting to click,” Jesse said of Sawtell.
In a further irony, the now Green Machine head coach Joe Skrtic was at the helm when the six lads were part of the North Coast NPL 13s and 14s.
The seamless transition of the boys from NPL to top tier CPL is testament to the value of the NNSW youth competition.
While it can be divisive for clubs to lose their young leading lights to the NPL – they return to clubland after their final year in the 16s as better players.
It’s the bigger picture view – and it’s an elite system of player development which is proven when so many youngsters are marching straight into Coastal Premier League outfits and more than holding their own.
FLASHBACK: The champion North Coast NPL 13s of 2017. Front row – Baden Rees (first on left), Jacob Field (second from left), Jesse Buckle (third from left), Marcus Field (fourth from left), Taj Northfield (fifth from left). Back row – Will McKinney (third from left) and coach Joe Skrtic (second from left).