Young guns are ready to fire

THE St George Illawarra Dragons and the Cronulla Sharks have identified several talented players who will battle it out in the generation-next competition, the under-20 National Youth Competition (NYC).

The Dragons are coached by former St George and Balmain first grader Steve Price, who has led the club in Jersey Flegg and Premier League and was in charge of their last premiership-winning Flegg team in 2005.

Price said players and officials were excited about the concept.

"It is a new competition so it will be interesting to see how it pans out," he said.

"It is the Centenary year of rugby league so it should be a really great thing."

The Dragons have focused on retaining their juniors, with Kyle Stanley, Matt Mundine, Rory O'Brien, Daniel Fepuleai and Dean Whare expected to be prominent in the competition.

Illawarra juniors include Josh Cochrane, Rhys Cochrane, Beau Henry, Jake Marketo and Luke Muttdon.

Kyle's brother Chase Stanley, 18, is available for selection in the under 20s competition although he has represented New Zealand and played 18 NRL matches for the Dragons last year.

Outside back Whare has had an impressive off season, training with the first grade squad even though he was in the Dragons' under-20 list.

"We've got a number of good players," Price said.

"I don't want to label any players yet, I just want to see them in the trials and in the first couple of games.

"I am quietly confident that you might see a couple of kids make the jump up to first grade.

"Brownie [Dragons coach Nathan Brown] has shown that he won't hesitate to give a young bloke a go if they have the desire and are doing the right thing."

Former international Jim Dymock, who played six Test matches for the Kangaroos, will coach the Sharks side, assisted by Tony Herman.

The Sharks squad is sprinkled with local juniors, among them Jack Bosden, Bryce Forrest, Nathan Donnelly, Jayson Bakuya and Matt Sokkar.

But the Sharks have also looked outside their junior base to improve their depth.

Former Dragons backrower Dean Lockhart has made the switch, outside back Nathan Stapleton was recruited from Queensland rugby union, hooker Lancen Joudo from Penrith and the Dubbo duo of Andrew Madden and Brad Marks have moved to Sydney to chase their NRL dream.

"Hopefully we will go well as it is our first year and with a lot blokes getting together I just want to be competitive," Dymock said.

"They are a good bunch of kids and are gelling well."

Bosden, Stapleton, Tuu Maori and Travis Robinson are all training with the first grade squad.

"I don't think [the under 20s] will be the No.1 feeder [to the NRL]," Dymock said.

"We might get four players during the year playing first grade, but I think there is a bit of a gap where they have to play against men.

"Playing 20s will be a good contest for them, but you want to be playing some good old hard nuts and you will still get that playing Premier League."

New recruit Karl Filiga, 19, may spend some time in the NYC but Dymock is not holding his breath. "Filiga can play," Dymock said. "I don't think he will play too many games for us as he will probably play first grade."

The Dragons began training last week with a squad of more than 40 players, which will be trimmed down to 30 players for the season.

The Sharks resumed their training season on Saturday.