On a wing and a prayer

By MITCHELL DALE

COFFS Rugby is set to field one of the slickest backlines in Country NSW this year ... all they need is a couple of flashy wingers to fill the No. 11 and No. 14 jerseys. It might be early in February, but the Coffs backline is almost set in stone, with both wing positions the only spots up for grabs.

An all-NSW Country centre pairing, the return of Brendan Hoy to his favoured position of halfback and the continued improvement of young flyhalf Hugh Campbell give Coffs a lethal look in attack.

Throw in electrifying fullback Adam Brunton and Coffs will boast arguably the strongest club backline in country NSW.

New coach Paul Butcher believes Coffs' backline will be the side's major strength this year.

Coffs Rugby's forward pack was generally regarded as the side's powerbase last season, but Butcher believes that could change in 2005.

"I know the forwards will hate this, but with Brendan Hoy back at halfback, I think the backs are going to be very strong," Butcher said.

"For a big man, Brendan is one of the best halfbacks I have ever seen, he has the ability to put his outside men into gaps."

With NSW Country Cockatoos inside centre Mark Ellis arriving at the club from Inverell to join representative team-mate Kevin Simpson, Coffs now boast arguably the best centre pairing in the State outside Sydney first grade.

Butcher believes having the two Cockatoos in the midfield will be a massive boost for teenage five-eighth Hugh Campbell, who is already attracting attention from Sydney clubs despite his greenhorn status.

"With two Country players sitting in the centres, I think Hugh will work wonders," he said.

"Hugh has hardly played any junior representative rugby, but a couple of clubs from Sydney are already asking about him."

The Coffs Rugby pack is also looking stronger than last year, despite the loss of NSW Country prop and premiership-winning captain Dave Hales.

Lock Connor Barrett is back from a stint overseas, frontrower Matt Hoy returns, while No. 8 Mika Kama is also set to come out of retirement.

The only area causing some worry for Butcher was at the end of the backline, with last year's wingers Dan Connell and Matt Timmins both leaving the area.

Butcher has heard whispers of a possible return by prolific winger Mark Pledger, who jumped codes and joined Coffs Harbour Comets (rugby league) in 2004.

"I think the guys are still working on Mark, it would be nice to get him and Asa (2004 premiership winger Asipeli Prescott) back (from rugby league)," he said.



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