A clean sweep of long-time rivals Queensland by the under-age sides of the NSW Waratahs was the perfect start to the National Championships.
The best spin-off arising from the Waratahs Under-19s' comeback win over the young Reds in Brisbane last Sunday was the strong hint these teams will get to do it all again.
There were enough classy highlights to the 29-26 spectacle at Sunnybank Rugby Club that you’d have to tip the same two teams meeting in the November 13 final.
That’s good news because the best of this crop will form the nucleus of the Junior Wallabies in 2023 when the World Under-20s Championships will be back on the calendar.
When the Reds led 19-3 at half-time, you felt Queensland had found a way to balance the ledger after losing to NSW in the earlier Under-16s (32-3).
The Under-15s were not part of a National Championships storyline but the result went the same way...13-6 to the young Waratahs.
The Waratahs Under-19s impressed with a switched-on return to the field after half-time against the sleepy Queenslanders.
None showed more authority than imposing try-scoring backrower Clem Halaholo, named Man of the Match for using his 110kg frame so well to turn the tide.
Centre Jackson Ropata, prop Henry Roberts and Halaholo scored in a 13-minute rush just after half-time for a 22-0 points surge that flipped the scoreboard to 22-19.
The young Reds woke up and red-haired winger Jarrod Homan dotted down in the corner after a slick passing relay across the backline from a strong scrum.
The Reds had the lead back at 26-22 lead with six minutes to play but the script was not complete.
Off the back of an attacking lineout, broad-shouldered Waratahs prop Jayden Moujalli decided the match himself with a charge, some footwork, a spin and the determination to crash over.
Halaholo, 19, had played for the Waratahs in their recent trial against the ACT Brumbies and he made his professional background count.
“It’s a good feeling. This is the first time for me beating Queensland because we never did coming through Under-15s and Under-16s,” Halaholo said.
“I learnt a lot in the Waratahs squad this year. I tried to bring that experience and intensity to this game as well as lead by example as vice-captain.
“After that slow start we knew we had to really work on our second efforts and just doing our own roles better in the second half.”
Waratahs Under-19s coach Mike Cross was delighted with how his charges turned the game.
“It’s awesome to be back playing an Under-19 Championships for the first time since 2019. At half-time, we made a point that the boys had to bring more physicality and tighten up that middle were Queensland were coming through,” Cross said.
Switching fullback Tom Morrison to flyhalf for the second half instantly made the Waratahs more direct with their play.
Queensland flyhalf Harry McLaughlin-Phillips, 18, again looked all class.
His own right-foot step speared him over for a first half try and he unselfishly distributed passes, kicked neatly or had further darts with the ball.
“Against a quality side, you can’t switch off like we did and it was hard to get out of the rut we put ourselves in,” McLaughlin-Phillips said.
“We have really good players in each position so hopefully we get to face the Waratahs again.”
The dominant NSW Under-16s scored some excellent tries. The reverse of direction set play which put halfback Sam Blank over early was well executed with sharp fullback Mitchell Woods joining the line.
Woods’ own try after forwards Max Meagher, Toby Brial and non-stop Marshall Le Maitre had been involved in the build-up was very good.
In Canberra, winger Henry Palmer scored twice in the 62-27 victory for the ACT Brumbies Under-19s over a Western Force side which went with them try-for-try early on.
The Force Under-16s celebrated an upset 26-20 win.
On Wednesday, the Under-16s and Under-19s of the Melbourne Rebels have their first hitout when they host the Force at the Power House Junior Rugby Club.
Next Sunday, the Waratahs and Brumbies meet at The David Phillips Sports Complex in Sydney.