Tuttle's tough road to title test

by Sam Phillips

As one of the inaugural Queensland Country players, it's been a long road to Saturday's grand final for James Tuttle.

Country finished second last, second last and dead last in each of the first three NRC seasons.

There were always signs of life with ball in hand but defensively, they were nothing short of a basket case.

Country conceded the third most points in 2014, the third most in 2015 and the most in 2016.James Tuttle has been a part of the Country fabric. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan HertelThey were the competition's whipping boys, having won five games in total prior to 2017.

It goes without saying that there have been a few floggings in those three years and Tuttle, who skippered the side in 2015 and 2016, has been one of the shining lights through those dark times.

He's no longer the shining light.

The 21-year-old is an integral part of a contender and that means he now has plenty of players around him on his level.

The pleasing part about that, according to Country's star halfback, is the progression of the group that came together with one goal at the start of 2017.

"At the start of the season we had a goal in mind and that was to play in this grand final," he said.

"Each training session, each game, we wanted to put ourselves in the position to be here during this week and to play Saturday night.

"The group is very similar over the last few years and especially last year.

"A lot of the boys progressed again to this year and coming last, last year, to now being in a grand final, in the space of a year - it's pretty special."

The aforementioned basket case defence has been transformed into the competition's second best defensive unit - behind the Vikings - in the space of one season.

That's a remarkable transformation in such a short amount of time and Tuttle put that down to one factor.There have been a few more smiles on Tuttle's face this NRC season. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan Hertel"The buy in by the whole group," he said.

"The boys have worked really hard under Thorny as head coach and we have reaped the rewards of that hard work.

"Thorny has been exceptional as a head coach and we have some young players that have come through.

"Liam Wright - who is now on the Spring Tour with the Wallabies - we are able to progress players like that and we are reaching for higher honours now at the end of the year.

"It's just a bit of a shame he can't be here for the grand final."

All eyes now turn to Saturday's grand final at Viking Park.Can Tuttle and Country win a fairytale premiership? Photo: QRU Media/Brendan HertelIt would be one of the great stories if Country went from wooden spoon to champions and after falling 48-40 to Canberra in round one, revenge is the word on Tuttle's mind.

"It's been a while since we played them," Tuttle said.

"Both sides will have progressed throughout the season and they're probably the form side of the competition so far.

"We're happy going down there with the underdog tag - we've liked having that all the way through the season.

"We can go down this Saturday night and try to get some revenge, so to speak."

Queensland Country face the Vikings in the NRC grand final at Viking Park on Saturday, kicking off at 7:30pm AEDT, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS. Tickets are FREE.