NAMBUCCA Valley football prodigies Will McKinney and Taj Northfield had targets on their backs the size of beachballs when they took to the pitch this season in the Northern NSW Premier League junior competition.
That was a given after their team – North Coast – stunned and stirred the powerhouse Newcastle outfits on their way to grand final glory in the 2017 season.
Stepping up to the 14s division this year, the task was known – by them and the rest of the pack chasing the title.
“Pretty much every game was tough because they knew who we were, even when we were up against teams on the bottom of the ladder,” Will, a Year 8 student at Nambucca Heads High School, told the Guardian.
But the centre back and captain of the North Coast side was quietly assured that they had the quality to be back-to-back contenders.
“I actually thought we might be able to do it – even from the start of the season,” the 14-year-old said.
As it was, they finished second behind minor premiers, the Newcastle Emerging Jets, at the end of the regular comp.
“We had a good season, but we knew we would have to work a bit harder come the finals,” said right back/wing Taj, a 13-year-old who attends Macksville High.
In the semi-final, North Coast defeated Hamilton Olympic 5-3 in a scoring frenzy. Surprisingly, Edgeworth Eagles thumped the A League-aligned Jets 5-nil in the other prelim.
Then to the big one against Edgeworth – but there was no need to stress, as the North Coast boys eased to a 4-1 grand final eclipse of the Eagles at Magic Park, Broadmeadow.
Will and Taj will now enjoy the off-season and other sports, ahead of working toward a Premier League threepeat in 2019.