After winning the NYC premiership last year, expectations were always going to be high for the Panthers in 2014, and they haven’t failed to deliver. Despite being without players such as Waqa Blake, Kieren Moseley, Bryce Cartwright, Isaah Yeo and Dallin Watene Zelezniak for the majority of the year due to their elevation to either NSW Cup or NRL teams, the Under 20’s side has still managed to play some outstanding football and are now serious contenders for a top 8 spot.

Coming into this season as defending premiers was always going to be a difficult task for Trent Barrett and his staff with the rest of the competition out to topple to 2013 champions, but the coach says they welcomed the challenge.

“For the majority of the year we have only had two or three players out of last year’s team playing and a lot of the other guys were boys from the country who hadn’t experienced any grade football before”.

For this reason, Barrett says the team had to develop their own style of football, one very different from the type of football that the NYC champions of 2013 played.

“Without some of the game-breaking brilliant players such as George Jennings and James Roberts in the side this year, we have really had to earn our wins”

Currently sitting in 7th place on the competition ladder with 28 points in the bag, Coach Barrett believes that 30 points should be enough to ensure a finals berth for the team and according to Barrett, once they are in the finals it will be a whole new ball game

“We have beaten all but 2 of the top 8 sides at some stage this year so if we can get into the semi-finals we will certainly be confident”

Barrett also conceded that the first month of the competition which saw the team lose their first four matches, has made it more difficult for them at this time of the year, but he is quick to point out the positives that have arisen from that time

“It was a bit of a blessing really. We got an indication of where we were at and from there we have been able to improve every week to now and the side that’s playing at the moment are playing some really good footy”.

A big part of the style of football the side has been playing recently has been the form of halfback Sam Scarlett, who unfortunately will miss the next 5 weeks following a suspension for a dangerous tackle. Barrett admitted this was a massive loss for the team

“We didn’t have him for the first month when we lost those games and he has been a real leader for us throughout the year, but I’m confident in whoever we bring in, and I’m sure Jarrod Brackenhoffer will look after him and step up”.

On an individual level, despite having been assistant coach at club and origin level as well as head coach of the Country Origin team, this year saw Barrett take on his first full time head coaching role and he says it has been both fun and challenging

“It’s been good fun. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while now but the most important thing is that you’re prepared and you put the work in”.

As NYC coach, Barrett has also had the chance to coach some of the clubs brightest youngsters and he says it’s a very rewarding opportunity

“In this position you get a big kick out of players getting better and also reaching higher levels which makes the job even more fun”.

Helping Coach Barrett throughout the year has been his assistant, the recently retired Cameron Ciraldo who Trent says has been of great assistance to himself and the team

“He is very smart and very thorough, with a great work ethic and the fact we get along so well is important in that we can bounce ideas of each other”.

As well as guiding the clubs NYC team throughout this season, Barrett has also played a part in the success of the NRL team with his role as assistant coach. Whilst this is sometimes difficult, especially on game days, Barrett says it is an aspect that he enjoys

“Especially after a loss, it’s important that I wipe that and turn my attention to the NRL boys. It can lead to some long days and can be emotionally draining as you are riding your emotions for around six hours but it’s something I enjoy and its good fun”.

Watching the NYC team throughout the 2014 season, fun is something that Barrett looks to have instilled in the players, and hopefully their enthusiasm and energy in games can continue for weeks to come as it gets down to the business end of the competition.