THE Greater Northern Tigers under-16s go into Sunday's Country Championships semi-final against the unbeaten Western Rams as distinct underdogs.
The Steve Haylen-coached Tigers won their first three matches in the Andrew Johns Cup before dropping their final two to the North Coast Bulldogs and undefeated Northern Rivers Titans.
The Rams are defending the crown they won last year and have amassed five big wins from as many games.
"They haven't been beaten so far," said Muswellbrook's Haylen before last Saturday's training session at Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School in Tamworth.
"They've been a standout in their pool (southern).
"They have a pretty good forward pack and work hard for each other.
"They boast a second-rower and prop who go pretty well, too, and some very quick outside backs, not real big but quick.
"We will be the underdogs for sure but we'd like nothing better than to beat them.
"We have the calibre of player to do it and make a statement, too.
"I will tell the boys again at training, we're only a win away from the final.
"If they make that final they are a lot better chance also of making the Country team to go to England."
NSW Country will take under-16 and under-18 squads to England later this year as a reward for their good efforts.
And, Haylen believes he has a number of players in line for a call up.
First of all, though, is Sunday's semi-final against the Rams at Harry Elliott Oval, Forster.
The Northern Rivers Titans-Penrith Panthers under-16 clash kicks off at 10am with the Tigers and Rams going at it from 11.20am.
They are followed by the Laurie Daley Cup under-18 fixtures between Western Rams and Parramatta (12.40pm) and North Coast Bulldogs and Illawarra South Coast Dragons (2.10pm).
The senior men's (U23) and women's CRL Country Championships semi-finals will be played Saturday at Woy Woy Oval from 10am.
All games will be live-streamed courtesy of Bar TV Sports on the CRL's Facebook page.
GREATER NORTHERN TIGERS UNDER-16s
1 Daltyn McCartney (Denman), 2 Latrell Newman (Moree), 3 Hayden Bull (Scone), 4 Campbell Watchirs (Inverell), 5 Brayden Talbott-Hatch (Gunnedah), 6 Ethan Antzakles (Farrer), 7 Pichai Dixon (Aberdeen), 8 Mark Simon (Farrer), 9 Riley Reid (Dungowan), 10 Jeffrey Harvey (Narrabri), 11 Jock Brazel capt (Moree), 12 Luke Smith (Scone), 13 Sam Fechner (Scone), 14 Blake Johnston (Scone), 15 Lachlan Smith (Farrer), 17 Ryan Kelly-Payne (Gunnedah), 18 Nicholas Laurie (Scone), 20 Jordan Leota (Dungowan). Coach - Steve Haylen; manager - Mick Schmiedel; trainers - (yellow) Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, (blue) Anthony Cubillo, (orange) Daniel Swan
1 Braye Porter (St Johns Dubbo), 2 Mitchel Wilson (Wellington), 3 Josh Belfanti (Bathurst St Pats), 4 Zac Williams (St Johns Dubbo), 5 Brandon Hamilton (South Dubbo), 6 Kyle Mawhinney (Parkes Marist), 7 Cooper Egan (Lithgow), 8 Jackson Gersbach (Cabonne), 9 Fletcher Haycock (St Johns Dubbo), 10 Bill Statham (Cowra), 11 Aston Warwick (South Dubbo), 12 Matthew Noakes (Red Bend), 13 Finnley Neilsen capt (Parkes Marist), 14 Riley Wake (St Johns Dubbo), 15 Jesse Shorter (Red Bend), 16 John Mackay (Bathurst Panthers), 17 Sam Raumati (Red Bend), 18 Kaeden Dickson (Orange CYMS). Coach - Tony Woolnough