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Close bond drives underdog Devils in Sydney showdown

A team made up of tradesmen, youth workers, a teacher and a crane driver have embarked on one of the most prized underdog missions in Norths Devils history for tomorrow’s NRL State Championship in Sydney.

The Devils held their last training run for the year this afternoon ahead of tomorrow’s clash with the Penrith Panthers at the Olympic Stadium in the first game of the NRL grand final program.

This will pit the back-to-back Hostplus Cup premiers against the NSW Cup premiers in a game that Queensland hasn’t won since 2015.

But there is more to this game than the team lists suggest.

At least 14 of the 17 Panthers named for tomorrow’s game are fulltime players in the Penrith NRL squad.

The Devils named two fulltime players from their Brisbane Broncos affiliation – Brendan Piakura and Tyson Gamble.

The rest of the Devils squad has mixed fulltime work or study with the remarkable achievement of the famous club’s first consecutive premierships since 1963-64.

The commitment, effort and skill of Hostplus Cup players who do not hold NRL contracts often goes unrecognised in the hectic world of sport.

Michael Sio and Liam Horne are qualified electricians.

Connor Broadhurst is a teacher.

Jayden Stephens’ breakthrough season in senior football has been balanced with his work as a crane driver at the Port of Brisbane.

Their Devils teammates often dash to training after a long day of work, underlining the special nature of the team’s achievements and the task that faces them tomorrow.

“We’re just excited at the chance to represent our state out there on the national stage,” Devils co-captain Michael Sio said.

“We’ve never backed away from a challenge and we’ll be going into this game giving it everything we have.

“If we can defend as well as we did last week (in the grand final win over Redcliffe) we’ll give ourselves a very good chance.”

Despite their record run of six consecutive wins in finals matches, these Devils are used to being underdogs.

They were clear outsiders in the first week of this year’s finals when they dismantled minor premiers Burleigh in front of their stunned home crowd.

And they were outsiders again last week when they strangled a Dolphins team that had lost only one of its last 15 matches.

Co-coaches Ben King and Kevin Neighbour have guided their team to seven consecutive victories with cool heads and astute game plans.

“We’re a close squad and we have a strong belief in ourselves,” Sio said.

“We’re just looking forward to this game. It will be a lot of fun.”

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