DASHING Wallamba fullback, Chris Tout, has decided against joining the Old Bar Pirates Rugby League Club and will focus on claiming a hat-trick of titles with the Bulls in this year's Lower Mid North Coast rugby union premiership.
One of the most brilliant attacking backs produced in the region, Tout, 27, trained briefly with the Pirates and although the financial incentive was attractive with a partner in Ashleigh Lamborne and a two-year-old daughter to support, he was eventually won over by rugby union's more harmonious atmosphere.
"I found I enjoyed the union boys' company more, their club spirit," he said. "Rugby league culture is different, but that's professionalism for you. And when Daniel, my brother, joined the Bulls, that settled it."
It is not the first time Tout has been approached to play league, having previously received offers in younger years from both Brisbane and Sydney clubs.
The Bulls begin the defence of their championship on Saturday at home at Nabiac's Aub Ferris Oval against the Wauchope Thunder, the competition's "mystery club" after two demanding seasons in the Upper MNC competition, involvement which went into steep decline as defeats accumulated.
Wallamba club stalwart, Daniel Sawyer, has been training the Bulls until their new coach is settled in the area after his move from the Central Coast.
At Taree Rugby Park, the Manning River Ratz meet the Old Bar Clams while the Forster Tuncurry club's women's team, the Dolphinettes, travel to Gloucester to play last winter's premiers, the Cockies, in a hard first round game at Gloucester Oval.
With the loss of players such as tight-head Mitch Meredith to rugby league and fellow long-serving goal-kicking prop, Michael Wooster, to become a referee, it was a bad blow when Gloucester decided to end their involvement in the men's competition, at least for this year.