CARDIFF Hawks junior Isaac Heeney has again exceeded expectations, making the NSW/ACT Rams under-18 squad as a bottom-age player for the AFL national titles.
The onballer will play for the Rams against South Australia at Blacktown International Sportspark on Saturday in round one of the five-game series.
Heeney was voted best on ground in all three matches for the Rams under-16s at the national championships last year but was not expecting to make the under-18s side this year at his first attempt.
However, the Black Hill product impressed coaches during matches for the Sydney Swans under-18s against their Greater Western Sydney counterparts to be one of only a handful of under-17s talents to gain selection.
The achievement comes after a stellar 2012 which included his national title feats, selection in the Australian Institute of Sport program and securing an inaugural Jim Stynes Scholarship.
He was one of only 11 juniors Australia-wide and the only player in NSW to receive the scholarship, which is worth up to $20,000 over two years and helps ease the financial burden of football, travel and education expenses.
Terrigal-Avoca’s Thomas Head is in the under-19 Rams.
NSW/ACT play Victorian Metro on June9 at Visy Park, Northern Territory at Blacktown on June22, Queensland at Visy Park on June29 and Tasmania at Victoria Park on July4.
■ Coach Stewart Bell is confident of an improved showing from Newcastle at this weekend’s Australian Little League Championships on the Gold Coast.
Half of the 14-player squad are returning from last year’s under-13 national baseball tournament.
That experience, along with the players’ improvement at training and practice games in recent weeks, has Bell confident of a top-eight finish.
“Seven kids had the experience of playing last year,” he said. ‘‘That will help because last year it took us a day and a half to get our jaws off the ground and realise we can compete with these teams.
“You try not to get too confident when you go into tournaments like these, but if we play to our best, you never know how far we’ll go.”
Newcastle have been drawn in Pool A with Canberra and three West Australian teams, Perth Central, Swan Hills and Port Hedland.
Bell expects his team to be fighting for second place in the pool behind West Australian champions Perth Central.
If they can achieve that goal, they will qualify for the quarter-finals and have the chance to improve on last year’s eighth-place finish.
For the first time, the winner of the tournament will gain direct entry into the Little League World Series in Williamsport, in the US, in August.
“Not that I think we’re a genuine hope of competing for that position,” Bell said.
‘‘But it’s just a great little incentive to be played for.’’
The squad have been training hard in preparation for the championships, but Bell has reminded his players to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
‘‘Baseball gets serious enough as you get older so we really emphasise the fun factor,’’ he said. ‘‘By doing that we’ve been getting good results because they’re having fun.’’
The titles run from Saturday to Wednesday.
Newcastle: Brett Allen (Belmont), Olivia Cameron (Maitland), Sam Cooke (Boomerangs), Hayden Daniels (White Sox), Sam Faulkner (Boomerangs), Ryan Hudson (Toronto), Bradley Martin (White Sox), Joshua McDonald (Boomerangs), Izaak McIntyre (Boomerangs), Sam McLean (Belmont), Kingsley Williams (Boomerangs), Nathan Williams (Boomerangs), Rixon Wingrove (Phoenix Charlestown), Samuel Winpenny (Phoenix Charlestown).
Cardiff player Isaac Heeney, left, and Warners Bay player Sam Gibbons, right in action last season.