AFTER years of marking time, Oxley Pioneers coach Peter Barrett believes local rugby league is taking the long road back to sporting supremacy.
In a week where North Coast Football announced record numbers would turn out to play soccer this winter, Barrett pointed to this Sunday's under-18 selection trials at Macksville as another factor in league's fight back in the face of increasing competition from rival codes.
“I talk to the kids and their parents and there's no doubt that with the success of Oxley in the last couple of years, they all want to play representative football again,” he said.
“This weekend we're going to match two squads of 18 quality players against each other and because the clubs are co-operating, it means double the normal number of young blokes are getting their chance to be noticed.
“Even those who don't make the final Group 2 squad can show talent scouts their ability with NRL contracts and greater educational and career opportunities available.”
While most of the selected players are new faces on the representative scene, the coach has been watching their progress through the age competitions and checking the background to several who have recently moved into the area.
“There are good reports about young Will Ghillotti and he's exactly the sort of player I'm talking about, who might have missed being seen unless we held this trial,” Barrett added.
“Also, the southern hooker Adam Coote has come over from Group 4 and he can play a bit ... and I think blokes like young Archer, McGrady, Babbini, Cohen and a couple of those Sawtell boys will go all right.”
Barrett's only regret is that once the premiership season begins on March 29 clubs will revert to starting the day with juniors, rather than stick with the 2008 policy of playing under 18s as the curtain-raiser to first grade.
“Our comp was just starting to see the benefits and now they've gone and changed it,” he said.
“We are going to see so many talented young kids running around and they would have been sensational in first grade, for the extra experience they would have received.
“It's not quite the same when you get asked to back up for reserve grade.”
The trial will be held from 11.30am this Sunday at Allen Gillett Oval and will be followed by club trials between Macksville and Wauchope in junior and open grades.
Final squads to contest the Oxley selection round robin at Bellingen on April 4 will be named on Sunday night.
1 - Josh Raynor (Sawtell) 2 - Warren Jarrett (Sawtell)
3 - Luke Uikeloto (Sawtell)
4 - Zac Goodenough (Sawtell)
5 - Karnuny Pearce (Sawtell)
6 - Jay Lansley (Orara Valley)
7 - David McGrady (Coffs Harbour)
8 - Ben Groenwen (Orara Valley)
9 - Jarrod Few (Orara Valley)
10 - Dave Mitchell (Orara Valley)
11 - Zac Lauder (Woolgoolga)
12 - Mike Hendry (Sawtell)
13 - Alex Hull (Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo)
14 - Tom Adams (Sawtell)
15 - Vaughan Babbini (Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo)
16 - Harinder Husna (Woolgoolga)
17 - Bill Buckley (Orara Valley)
18 - John Moss (Orara Valley)
1 - Cameron Cohen (Nambucca Heads)
2 - Brook Sobokar (Port Macquarie)
3 - Kristian Kelly (Macksville)
4 - Will Ghillotti (Macksville)
5 - Brad Welsh (Macksville)
6 - Brad Field (Nambucca Heads)
7 - Matt Archer (Nambucca Heads)
8 - Danny Cooper (Macleay Valley)
9 - Adam Coote (Port Macquarie)
10 - Jordan Hollis (Nambucca Heads)
11 - Eddie O'Brien (Port Macquarie)
12 - Ned Hicks (Nambucca Heads)
13 - Harley Gore (Port Macquarie)
14 - Tyler Doolan (Macksville)
15 - Dylan Beebe (Port Macquarie)
16 - Ritchie Mann (Macksville)
17 - Mick Mirwa (Macleay Valley)
18 - Murray Spear (Macksville)