Battle of Bello brewing

FROM a small idea discussed among friends, this Saturday's pre-season rugby league clash at Bellingen Park is turning into a blockbuster.

The Australian Army 1st XIII will take on Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo, the match played to honour the memory of the late Sergeant Matthew Locke from Bellingen, killed in action during 2007 while serving in Afghanistan.

First term Magpie captain-coach Josh White said the concept had snowballed since first being suggested.

“It's turning out to be bigger than State of Origin with roped-off VIP sections in the grandstand and the Army bringing all their top brass into town,” he said.

“This will be great for the boys to play in front of a big audience and an ideal opportunity for the club supporters to take a look at our new players and start getting behind the team.”

Several 'Bello boys' are in the Army XIII and will play against their old club for the first time.

Known as 'The Thunder,' the visitors will be skippered by Urunga native Sergeant Nick Mathews who'll have the unusual duty of bossing around an officer, his brother Captain Brenden Matthews, also a member of the squad.

A third former Magpie Private Lewis Balcomb will also turn out for the military.

Group 2 chief administrator Jim Anderson, also a favourite Magpie son, said the game and its after-celebrations provided an opportunity for historic supporters to meet up again.

“Both families of the Army boys have long-time ties with the club as Graham 'Mushy' Matthews and Johnny Balcomb were captain-coaches at one time or another,” he said.

“The Bellingen people are very proud of the history and the people who made the club what it is, so I urge everybody to get out to the ground and support the game.”

Lead-up matches will be played from 3pm with the main fixture timed to get underway at 5pm.

Entry to the game is by gold coin donation and all proceeds will go to two charities nominated by the Locke family.

Family spokesperson Debbie Locke said a portion will be assigned to Legacy, the organisation tasked with caring for widows and dependants of servicemen and women lost in conflict, as well as the Life, Love and Health Foundation - a charity raising money to help build a school in East Timor.

“This is a particularly fitting cause as most members of the Army team have served in East Timor and the East Timorese people are particularly dear to their hearts,” she said.

“It is intended the Matthew Locke Memorial Match become an annual event and after the game, we invite everybody to the Diggers Tavern where raffles and an auction of memorabilia have been organised to raise more funds for the charities.”

With the region a major recruitment area, the Army will station a caravan offering careers advice on the ground.

Recently, local SAS Trooper Mark Donaldson, a former member of the Dorrigo Rangers rugby team, won the Victoria Cross for valour while serving in Afghanistan.

The importance of the occasion has not been lost on the home-town coach.

“To beat these blokes I'll be putting all the big name players on the field,” he said.

“You can watch Johnny Russell, our nuggetty fullback from North Sydney Bears ... Robert Weir, a prop joining us from Wests Magpies ... and Dion Marr, our key new signing from Dunghutti who was among the top handful of Group 2 forwards last season.

“I think the boys can give you a few good headlines to write about in Monday's paper.”

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