FORMER Golden Boot winner Ricky Campbell will play his first game for Taree Wildcats since 2018 when he lines up against Sawtell in Saturday's Coastal Premier League football opening round clash at Coffs Harbour.
Campbell, a striker, was a regular goal scorer for the Wildcats in the days when they played in the Football Mid North Coast Premier League. However, he made a successful transition to rugby with the Manning Ratz and was a member of the club's premiership winning side in 2020.
Campbell switched back to the round ball code this year after the Lower North Coast Rugby competition was reduced to just three teams.
"I'm looking forward to it,'' the 30-year-old said.
"I know they've struggled a bit in the last couple of years but we should have a competitive side and we'll cause a few upsets.''
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Campbell won the Golden Boot for scoring the most goals in the season in the Football Mid North Coast Premier League. He's confident he can get back into goal scoring mode when his fitness improves.
"I'm not as fit as I used to be but I'm a bit smarter...I know when to run now and when not to,'' he smiled.
"It's good to have him back,'' Wildcats captain-coach Shannon Hall said.
"He gives up a bit of experience, something we lacked last year. He's getting a bit old, so his fitness might be down, but he'll be right after a couple of games.''
Hall agreed that scoring goals was an area the Wildcats struggled with last season.
"We relied a lot on Sam Modderno and he's playing in Newcastle this year,'' Hall said.
"But we have Ricky now and Jackson Witts is back playing again. They were together back in the days when Taree was strong in the Mid North Coast comp, so they know each other's game.''
The Wildcats will be without consistent Cassidy Veitch on Saturday and two teenagers, Scott Walker and Dru Cini will make their first grade debuts.
Hall, who will play centre back, said the Wildcats have built up on player numbers this season.
"That's a good sign, we'll have two fresh reserves for first grade. We're going to take a pretty strong team up there,'' he noted.
Hall said the Wildcats have had a limited preparation for the game due to the wet weather, but said all clubs will be in the same position.
The Wildcats will be on the road for the opening three weeks of the season, with next weekend the Super Round where all matches are scheduled for Coffs Harbour.
Taree will play Southern United at Forster in week three before hosting Bellingen at Omaru on April 23.
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