North Cronulla Sea Lice one win away from fairytale return season

Remember the North Cronulla Sea Lice?

The Meldrum Cup Subbies club that reformed this year and fielded a side for the first time in 23 years.

Well it turns out, they can play.

And tomorrow, they’ll take on local rivals Engadine in the Meldrum Cup grand final at Forshaw Rugby Park.

“At the start of the year, we thought if we could make the finals, then it’d be a really successful season and we’d be happy with that in our first year. Fortunately a few things fell into place and now we’re playing in a grand final,” coach Mark Smith told Rugby News.

The North Cronulla rugby club dates back to the 1960’s and later became Port Hacking, who merged with St George in 1989 to form Southern Districts.

North Cronulla Sea Lice, a side created by members of the North Cronulla Surf Lifesaving Club, broke away from Port Hacking in 1984 and played in several Subbies divisions through till 1995.

“Most of the guys in this side are involved in North Cronulla Surf Club or friends with someone who is. One of the boat rowers at the club started talking about how he was becoming disillusioned with the way the local rugby league comp was going,” Smith said.

“They were playing the same teams over and over again and a lot of the guys just weren’t enjoying it anymore.”

So the Sea Lice returned and made their Meldrum Cup debut in April this year.

“We picked up a lot of rugby league players, then a lot of guys who had played rugby before, but hadn’t played in quite a few years.

“They were looking for a way back into the game that didn’t require as much of a commitment as playing grade rugby does and they found it at Sea Lice and I think they’re all back enjoying rugby again.

“Most the league guys were surprised by just how constant rugby is. Their perception was that rugby is a very stop, start game but they’ve quickly learnt that everything you go into is a contest for the ball.

“If someone can steal it off you, they will and if you take a bad carry, you’ll lose the ball. Once they worked that out, they started to really enjoy the game and I think we’ve converted most of them to the XV man game now.”

As a veteran forward and former colts coach at Southern Districts, Smith knows plenty about the values of a rugby club culture, something he says the newer players have picked up quickly.

“The culture at the club is fantastic. At training this week we had 10 or so guys that can’t play this weekend down at training helping out. That’s a really important part of a rugby club in my eyes,” he said.

“We were also fortunate to pick up a sponsor who owned a bus, so we’ve been travelling to all our away games together and that’s something everyone has really enjoyed. On the way back, we have a few beers and a sing, then most of the guys head out together for the night.”

After finishing as minor premiers, North Cronulla beat Burraneer 43-17 in the major semi final to book a spot in the decider, while Engadine beat Collaroy and Burraneer to play their way into the final.

“We just need to focus on playing the way we want to play. We’ve got some very good ball runners in the forwards and we like to attack on the fringes, but we’ve also got a very good backline so we certainly want to use the ball as much as possible,” Smith said.

“The scrum has improved dramatically throughout the year, but we’ve still got a lot of guys playing tight five positions for the very first time, so hopefully we can hold our own in that areas, then let out backs play.”

North Cronulla take on Engadine in the NSW Subbies Meldrum Cup grand final at Forshaw Rugby Park at 3pm on Saturday.

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