OFF the back of numerous South Coast players, the Coastal Connection has finished second at the inaugural Tribal League tournament.
But if not for the overwhelming enthusiasm of the South Coast players, many of whom helped the South Coast Black Cockatoos win the 2019 Koori Knockout, there might not have even been a Coastal Connection team in 2020.
"I can remember seeing the announcement [about Tribal League] when it first came out about four months and didn't think I'd put in a team," Coastal Connection captain Dylan Farrell said.
"Nearly straight away, I got a call from Josh Addo-Carr to play with him at the Redfern All Blacks, which I said I would as long as I could bring a couple of my South Coast boys with me.
"After touching base with them, they all wanted to play - my phone dead-set didn't stop for days on end.
"Following discussions with La Perouse, who I've played knockouts with before and guys from Griffith, we put a team together - it worked out well as there's plenty of ties between all of those communities.
"We pulled together a very strong 30-man squad and submitted it to the Tribal League committee and luckily, we were one of the six semi-professional NSW teams selected, as they couldn't have any interstate teams because of COVID-19."
Hosted by the National Indigenous Rugby League, Farrell's squad opened their accounts with a 6-4 loss to the Newcastle Hawks in round one at Dubbo's Apex Park.
Then in round two, Coastal smashed the Wiradjuri Googars 30-10.
Coastal then dropped back-to-back games against Wellington Castlereagh All Blacks 16-12 and Walgett Aboriginal Connection 12-8 - which were both played at Central Coast Stadium.
But the side featuring Jade Anderson, Jason Gillard, Wylie Manton, Ryan James, Ali Beale, TJ McLean, Jayden Sullivan, Andrew Fifita, Mase Harrison, Craig Garvey, Alan Daly, Robbie Simpson Jr, Josh Power-Farrell, Tyson Simpson, Kyle McLean, Treigh Stewart, Paul Roberts, Alan Daly Jr, Louis Grossemy, Evan Manning, Quinton Silva, Latu Fifita, Jamie Ingram and Kade King ended the round matches on a high, easily accounting for Redfern All Blacks 26-4.
This put Coastal into the semi-finals, where they defeated Wellington by one point (17-16).
Then in the final, played at Campbelltown Stadium, Coastal went down by two points to Newcastle Hawks (6-4).
"We started the competition slowly, as we didn't have the luxury of being able to train together like other teams," Farrell said.
"Considering that, to only lose the games we did because of our inaccurate goal-kicking gave us plenty of confidence we could beat anyone in the competition.
"Once we finally started to click in the final round, you could see how dangerous of a side we were.
"Unfortunately we fell at the final hurdle and on another day, we probably win that game but that's footy."
Despite the loss, the former South Sydney Rabbitoh and St George Illawarra Dragon was full of praise for the tournament, which saw a number of talented youngsters offered train and trial deals by Michael McGuire and the West Tigers.
"It's a great platform for Indigenous players to showcase their talents on a bigger stage," he said.
"We had numerous teenagers in our team and this was great exposure for them, while also letting some of us older players play alongside mates you don't get the chance to play with week in, week out.
"It's an awesome concept, which plenty of people had input into and I have no doubt it'll only get bigger for years to come - I can't wait for next year already."
In other Tribal League news, the Redfern All Blacks side, featuring Shoalhaven's Summer Dann, took out the women's grand final 11-4 against Newcastle.