State of Origin - QLD v NSW: Game 3
State of Origin - QLD v NSW: Game 3

Origin upset caps breakout year for Coast league

A Maroons series win underpinned by starring roles from several Coast connections capped off what was a breakout, albeit somewhat bittersweet year for rugby league in the region.

Queensland ran out 20-14 winners over New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night to claim a 2-1 series win that many considered impossible at the start of the series.

Coast connections were strong in the upset.

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Noosa Pirates junior Jake Friend starred alongside Gympie junior Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and former Falcons gun Harry Grant.

Skipper Daly Cherry-Evans even had links to the region, having starred for the former Sunshine Coast Sea Eagles in 2010, a year before steering the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles to an NRL Premiership.

Wayne Bennett with Harry Grant. Picture: Peter Wallis
Wayne Bennett with Harry Grant. Picture: Peter Wallis

The strength of the region's rugby league pathway was on full display at Suncorp Stadium, and it's not being missed by managers of the game's future stars.

Sunshine Coast Falcons CEO Chris Flannery said he'd received more inquiry this off-season from player managers than ever before, with talents eager to enter the Falcons system.

It is becoming renowned as a veritable production line of NRL stars.

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The Melbourne Storm affiliation has fast-tracked development of several stars who all came through the Falcons program, including Grant, Nicho Hynes, Ryan Papenhuyzen and more.

Mr Flannery said it was nice to know the club had played a small part in their development, but said the players themselves deserved all the credit for their hard work.

"It's been unbelievable really to see," he said.

Sunshine Coast Falcons CEO Chris Flannery. Picture: Patrick Woods
Sunshine Coast Falcons CEO Chris Flannery. Picture: Patrick Woods

"It goes to show the pathways for those guys is pretty clear."

It capped what had been in many ways a breakout year for the sport on the Sunshine Coast, despite the Falcons being sidelined with the Intrust Super Cup abandoned after one round due to coronavirus.

The Melbourne Storm relocated to the Coast, seeking refuge as Victoria battled a second-wave, basing themselves at Twin Waters and training out of Sunshine Coast Stadium.

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The transition was seamless, with the Storm managing to win the grand final from their new home away from home.

"It's a pretty big feather in the cap of the Sunshine Coast for the Storm to win a comp based here," Mr Flannery said.

Jake Friend waited years for his Maroons jersey. Picture: Peter Wallis
Jake Friend waited years for his Maroons jersey. Picture: Peter Wallis

Mr Flannery said he believed the relocation had been beneficial commercially for the NRL powerhouse and the Falcons hoped a few locally-based Storm fans would convert into Falcons followers.

On the field, Harry Grant was being touted as the Maroons' next 10-year hooker, despite the strong performance of Friend, who had been waiting in the wings for an Origin start.

Mr Flannery said in February Grant had been sounding out a move back to the Falcons, as it appeared unlikely a loan deal to the Wests Tigers would materialise.

"He was keen to get back up here and rip in," Mr Flannery said.


He said it was surreal now, nine months later, to be reflecting on his starring role in the Origin decider and the prospect of the young gun becoming a mainstay of the Maroons for the next generation.

"He's a phenomenal little player," Mr Flannery said.

Focus has now switched to next season.

The Falcons recruited assuming they wouldn't have access to their Storm feeder players, assuming coronavirus bubbles were put in place.

Mr Flannery said they'd looked to cover every position and were prepared to carry a larger squad as a result, as they hoped to hit the field in 2021.