BEN BOUNCES BACK
By MITCHELL DALE
CLASSY Orara Valley five-eighth Ben McCarthy has been rushed into the North Coast squad following a successful comeback from injury against Coffs Harbour on Sunday.
McCarthy missed the annual Group 2-Group 3 representative match last month with a muscle tear at the top of his knee, an injury which also forced him out the last two Group 2 rounds.
But after the 27-year-old played a leading role in the Axemen's 36-16 demolition of Coffs Harbour on Sunday, North Coast selectors opted for him on the bench to bolster the squad's attacking options.
But the news wasn't so good for McCarthy's opposite number on Sunday, Coffs Harbour pivot Bert Gray.
Despite performing strongly for Group 2 and then captaining North Coast in their trial match against Northern Division, Gray was left out of the final divisional squad.
In all, selectors made five changes to the side they amended last week.
Port Macquarie winger Luke Sprague replaces injured Orara Valley utility back Ryan Walker, Forster lock Matt Finlayson comes in for Gray, McCarthy edges out Camden Haven's Dean Anderson and Taree City hooker Dean Simpson replaces Old Bar Beach rake Grant Wells.
The match against Central Coast at Tuncurry on Saturday will be McCarthy's first for North Coast since making his debut as a 19-year-old alongside current Orara teammates Matt Donovan and Brett Davis.
McCarthy was surprised to hear about his selection when contacted by the Coffs Coast Advocate yesterday.
"It's a bit of a shock, I knew they were considering me but I didn't know the final verdict," McCarthy said after being informed of his selection.
"I was never really that worried about playing rep footy this year, I was mainly focused on playing well for Orara Valley.
"This is only my second season back after having three years off with injury, so I just wanted to play good club footy."
Ironically, McCarthy's North Coast debut all those years ago was also against Central Coast, although he will be hoping for a better result this weekend.
"We got flogged by them in my first game," he said.
"But it was still a bit of a highlight for me being a young bloke playing against the best players from other areas, especially Central Coast with all the Metro players."
North Coast coach Mark Morrison yesterday applauded the decision to fast track McCarthy into the divisional side, despite his lack of recent game-time, although he didn't feel it should have been at Gray's expense.
"Ben's a class footballer, I'm definitely in favour of having him in the side," Morrison said.
"But I think Bert was very unlucky to get dropped."
NORTH COAST SQUAD v CENTRAL COAST
1. Dave Pickvance (Macksville)
2. Luke Sprague (Port Macquarie)
3. Joel Asher (Port Macquarie)
4. Nigel Latham (Wingham) 5. Nathan Davies (Sawtell) 6. Will Baker (Nambucca Heads)
7. Neville Donovan (Macksville)
8. Lee Harvey (Woolgoolga)
9. Dean Simpson (Taree City)
10. Phil Adamson (Taree)
11. Dean Basham (Forster-Tuncurry)
12. Chris Piper (Macksville)
13. Tristan Hamilton-Giggins (Orara Valley)
14. Ben McCarthy (Orara Valley)
15. Matt Finlayson (Forster-Tuncurry)
16. Dan Murray (Wingham)
17. Aaron Considine (Orara Valley)