THREE lost weekends have limped by, but at last all six Lower Mid North Coast rugby union clubs should be free to cast off the weather’s shackles and engage in premiership football on Saturday.
Successive four-time champions, Forster Tuncurry Dolphins, begin their title defence with a home game against the revitalised Old Bar Clams at Peter Barclay Field, Tuncurry, fielding some new faces but shaken by the number of off-season retirements of premiership winners.
The game of the round will be the Wallamba Bulls’ clash with the Manning River Ratz at Nabiac Showground while a game already crucial to the very competition itself in establishing the two clubs’ long-term credibility is the Gloucester Cockies’ home fixture against the Myall Coast Mudcrabs.
The Cockies’ resourceful Chris Marchant is now a Mid North Coast Zone selector and Jamie “Emu” Andrews, another stalwart crucial to the club, has hung up his boots while former MNC halfback, Andy Paynter, has moved to play on the side of the Wallamba Bulls’ scrum.
This weekend, Gloucester’s new club president, goal-kicking prop, Mick Wooster, has predicted the Cockies will field a much improved side to that which slumped to an 82-7 first-round loss to the Wallamba Bulls at Gloucester.
Injuries and employment demands dealt the young Cockies team some heavy blows, leaving them fielding nine regular starting players and young replacements against the Bulls. Wooster promised the Myall Mudcrabs would encounter far sterner opposition on Saturday at Gloucester.
Husky young forward Ethan Hamilton has returned after a season away in England while the Cockies’ scrum will have promising Ken Wamsley at breakaway with former representative hooker, Ben “Pumba” Williams, back beside Wooster in the front row.
“We have so many young players, 16-years of age or thereabouts, and they need time to mature,” Wooster said. “The player I think will be our secret weapon is Kieran Schneider, a NSW basketball representative.
“Kieran is a tall, lanky lad we have on the wing, but who we can use as a lineout forward with Ethan. He is strong in the air and a hard tackler, a very impressive young player.”
Wallamba will again be led by prop forward, Aaron Gordon, the Bulls having excellent playing numbers and two new backs in centre James Hanford and winger Jake Schumaker.
While the Dolphins have trained pleasingly under new coaches, Ron Rae and Paul Drake, the probable loss of last season’s player of the grand final, No 8 Colin Harris and others such as lock Rob McCabe, back Mark Colless, breakaway Brad Murray and utilities Chris Simon and Rob Avard are no longer available.