FORMER NRL star Matt Bartlett will play his first game in Group Three Rugby League since the 2000 under 18 grand final when he lines up for Wingham against Port Macquarie at the Wingham Sporting Complex tomorrow.
Bartlett last played for the Tigers when he captained Wingham to the 18s premiership in a controversial game at the Jack Neal. His coach that day was current first grade mentor Stu Baker.
Bartlett has since played with Newcastle, Melbourne and North Queensland in the NRL and Lakes United in Newcastle. He'll line up in the back row against the Sharks.
Bartlett had a training run with Wingham last weekend and the side will have a further session either tonight or tomorrow morning.
Coach Baker had to whittle the 23 squad that won the Group Three pre-season.
"There's plenty of pressure on for first grade spots,'' first grade manager Craig Martin said.
"We'll have players the calibre of Michael Rees, Tim Watson and Nathan Gallagher in reserve grade this weekend, so there's depth in the club.''
TJ Rudolph, who produced some eye-catching performances in the pre-season will be retained at fullback.
He alternated between halfback and hooker last year.
Ben Welsh has cemented his place at prop after a solid pre-season. Welsh is back after a couple of season's off.
Tim Bridge will be in the centres with his elder brother, Matt at five-eighth. Tim played under 18s last year. He'll partner Joel Kliendienst in the centres.
Martin said the mood is upbeat within the club after the pre-season success. He hopes this will result in a big crowd turning out for the opening match.
"But this is the main competition now,'' he said.
Port had a mixed run in the pre-season with a loss to Wauchope followed by a big win over Taree City.