By MITCHELL DALE
NORTH Coast selectors have called in the cavalry following the side's humiliating defeat at the hands of Northern Division in Tamworth last weekend.
Selectors requested the services of four ex-NRL forwards plying their trade in the Group 2 and Group 3 competitions to add beef and brains to the relatively young North Coast squad which was hammered by 32 points in their only trial match before the NSW Country Championships.
But only two ? former Penrith and Parramatta prop Phil Adamson (now playing for Taree City) and former Test forward Wayne Bartrim (Macleay Valley) ?- have answered the call to arms, although Bartrim is only a shadow player at this stage.
Woolgoolga captain-coach John Cross and former St George Dragon Luke Felsch, now playing in Group 3, both declined the invitation.
Cross, who was not even going to play for the Seahorses at the start of the year, wants to concentrate on making Woolgoolga a force in Group 2, while Felsch has a prior engagement on the date of North Coast's round one clash with the star-studded Central Coast outfit (May 14).
North Coast coach Mark Morrison originally wanted to use a batch of young players in the region who will form the backbone of divisional sides in years to come.
But selectors were forced to re-think their youth policy after former NRL prop Matt Parsons, playing for Northern Division, ran rampant in last Saturday's trial.
With Central Coast this year fielding players from the Jim Beam Cup, regarded as the third strongest competition in NSW, Morrison realises experience will be crucial.
Selectors also concluded that a couple of big-name players would give the side enough credibility to unsettle their opposition.
"We had a talk after the (Northern Division) game and decided what we needed was some respect in the team," Morrison says.
"By respect, I mean that if you have a side of unknowns, the opposition are on a high for the first 15-20 minutes.
"But if they know a couple of your players (by reputation), they are thinking 'We'll have to watch him'."
Morrison also believes the former NRL stars' experience will be invaluable.
"We need blokes who have played at that level before," he says.
"We could also have got (Sawtell captain-coach and former NSW Country prop) Craig Wallace, but he is injured. These guys won't have any problems lifting to the intensity or speed of the game in the initial 10-15 minute phase.
"They will be able to lift and talk the (other North Coast) players through it.
"Phil was a bit of a strong man in the NRL and I would imagine he still is and Wayne is a very smart footballer, he can pick out an opponent's weakness and target it."
Morrison says the changes do not reflect the ability of the squad that played last weekend.
"It's not that I don't think these blokes have talent, because I do," he says.
"But if their confidence is knocked out when they are young, it is hard to get back."
REVISED NORTH COAST DIVISION SIDE: 1. David Pickvance (Macksville), 2. Ryan Walker (Orara Valley), 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. Grant Wells (Old Bar Beach), 10. Phil Adamson (Taree), 11. Dean Basham (Forster-Tuncurry), 12. Chris Piper (Macksville), 13. Tristan Hamilton-Giggins (Orara Valley). Reserves: 14. Bert Gray (Coffs Harbour), 15. Dean Anderson (Camden Haven), 16. Dan Murray (Wingham), 17. Aaron Considine (Orara Valley).