Kicking off with a bang
By DES HOY
RUGBY on the Mid North Coast and in Coffs Harbour kicks off with a bang on Saturday, March 11 at Rugby Park Toormina when the first round of the Country Championship will be played.
Four zones Mid North Coast, Far North Coast, New England and Western Plains will play three games in the Richardson Shield competition.
The winner of the Richardson Shield will then earn the right to play the winner of the team playing for the Caldwell Cup, Central Coast, Central West, Newcastle Hunter and Canberra.
Finals in the seniors and under 20's will be played on April 1 at the home ground of the team on top of the table in the Caldwell Cup.
The games will be played in many country towns stretching from Bourke to Ballina.
The first game at Rugby Park will start at 6pm and will be an under 20's fixture, played between last years Country Championship finalists New England and Far North Coast.
New England won the under 20 championship in 2005 and are favourites to repeat the the dose in 2006.
Both sides will be stacked with university students many of them will have just arrived in Armidale and Lismore to commence their university studies.
Each year talented players from colts sides in Brisbane and Sydney and athletes from Adelaide and Melbourne filter into these two towns to bolster the playing strength of the club and representative sides.
Justin Harrison was won such player that arrived in Lismore some years ago from Darwin as a young raw boned student and was enticed to become involved in the fifteen aside game and as a result progressed to the top playing as a lock for the Wallabies for many years.
Students have just arrived at the universities to commence their studies so the inclusion of these players in the zone representative sides will have left the respective coaches with limited time to prepare their sides and establish combinations.
However, the raw talent and skills these players possess will see them adapt very quickly.
This should be a game worth seeing between two competitive sides.
At 7-30pm the MNC and FNC senior sides will play their first game of the season in the Country Championship.
MNC will travel to the cotton fields of Warren in Western NSW the following week to play Western Plains in the second round of the championship.
Then on March 25 they will play the final game of the series on Verge Street Oval Kempsey against New England.
MNC and FNC have met on many occasions and victory in the past has gone to the team playing in their own zone.While MNC have only had one trial against Newcastle on February 25 to prepare them for this encounter, FNC have played a number of trials and have had been put through a special training session by the present country coach Col Jeffs last weekend in Lismore.
The balance of power has swung to the southern part of the zone in 2006 with clubs Old Bar, Manning and Forster/Tuncurry dominating the selections in the MNC team.
MNC coach Allan Nugent from Kempsey is confident his forwards will dominant their opposition but he feels his backline is missing a few playmakers.
The retirement of Kevin Simpson who has played for the Country Cockatoos over the past two seasons will be a big loss and Nugent is relying on a group of young players to step up for the big occasion.
The reward for players who want to have a go through the three match series is to be selected for the Country Cockatoos, play in the Australian Rugby Shield against the other States and then be selected for an international tour.