Group 2 action returns for 2011 with this evening’s sevens matches to be played before the NRL trial between South Sydney and Gold Coast.
Group 2 action returns for 2011 with this evening’s sevens matches to be played before the NRL trial between South Sydney and Gold Coast. BRUCE THOMAS

Mix of old-stagers and rookies

ALL four coaches involved in today’s VB Gold Group 2 Sevens reveal their squads will be split between established performers and those still under the microscope.

But according to Coffs Harbour boss Warren Gilkinson, his defending champions will be as focused on success as they were when downing Orara Valley 18-14 in the 2010 final.

“From that day we wanted all to know we meant business and got a winning culture established, that showed by playing the grand final later in the year,” he said.

“A couple of players will be rested until later in the trials, but the main blokes are in the shape you’d like them to be.

“I’m happier than ever, seeing Rick McGrady trying new stuff at training I’ve never seen him do before, so we might be further along than this time last year.”

The Comets have recruited Oxley Pioneers representative Kristian Kelly from Port Sharks and will try a new halves combination.

Halfback Nathan Curry and five-eighth Damien Goff come from the Hunter region with top credentials.

Bellingen’s Ryan O’Connor will be the only coach to take the field so he can look at his promoted under-18 grand finalists at close range.

“The full side won’t come out until the last trial,” he revealed.

“But I want to see how some of the kids go against the type of blokes they’ll come up against in first grade and get the feel of how some of the new players go with the ball in their hands.”

O’Connor admits his best eight current players will be watching from the grandstand, while the three Kiwi purchases won’t be seen until the Army match next weekend.

Arguably the most intriguing side belongs to Orara Valley, with co-coaches Grant Douglass and Paul Tomlinson trusting a few old heads to guide their exciting crop of graduates from last year’s premiership-winning under-18 team.

“We are confident for this and want to make a good impression from the start,” Douglass said, echoing rival Warren Gilkinson.

“Training for the squad in the last week has been relevant to the sevens format and I’m impressed with the skill levels.

“As a new coach I’m excited for the kids as they give us a blank canvas to work with and the opportunity is there for us all to rise together in the next few years.”

Typical of the new-look side is returning forward Vikram Atwal, who caught the eye with his ferocious defence when he last played in 2009.

“He was 50kg back then, but has built up to 100kg since he hit the weights and is raring to go,” Douglass added.

“You can’t train motivation into people, it has to come from inside the player and I see totally committed, motivated players at training now, every time I turn around.”

Woolgoolga coach Greg Shuttleworth is another seeing that work ethic and he’ll surround a small cluster of old-stagers with rookies and a further batch of second-year ‘veterans’ to see how the squad gels together.

“We have a mass of bright young kids, keen to get out in the middle, so why not give them a go?” he remarked.

“The challenge is on to make a mark in grade footy ... notice I didn’t stress first grade ... and if they reckon they’re good enough to make it, I’m a bloke who will give them every opportunity.”

Each team will be given two matches to demonstrate their credentials with the best two performers elevated into the final.

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