New blood pumped into Oxley U18s
OXLEY under 18s' coach Peter Barrett believes defending the Country Rugby League Championship trophy would be difficult but is not beyond the capability of his exciting young squad.
“For the past two years we've gone into the campaign with proven, experienced player combinations in most positions but this time will be different,” he admitted. Only the centres (Jaeger and Hammond) and two-thirds of the front row (Mack and Rodgers) have worked together in previous contests, but for important things like a halfback and five-eighth pairing, we're starting fresh.
“In our favour is being able to schedule a training run together before the first game - we didn't have that last year - and we can work hard to get an understanding going to mould a top-line side.”
Despite the 'starting from scratch' feel to the side, Barrett said the tri-series trials revealed immense potential.
“Gee, some really good players missed out,” he said.
“On the other hand, it means the shadow side is one of the best-ever and with almost every eligible player having an agreement or being under guidance from an NRL club, the talent is as good as it's ever been.”
Players expected to attract the most attention include West Lions fullback Matt Nean, Farrer Agricultural College products Andy Mack and Cameron Rodgers who were prominent in 2008's winning University Shield side, and exciting Moree centre Jerome Hammond.
Barrett said he was unperturbed by Group 2 losing both trials and the standard of the local competition was reflected in five representatives being selected.
And he warned certain individual club officials grumbling about the numbers selected from their areas that the trials were less about bragging rights for administrators and more about creating opportunities to excel.
“The Groups shouldn't get carried away by who wins the games or what the scores are ... what we are looking for is individual talent coupled with the ability to perform within a team environment,” he said.
“The players only had a short period to show what they had to offer and while the state of the ground forced a lot of dropped ball, the tackles were hard and the contacts were very physical.
“While one or two of the young blokes made mistakes in the conditions, overall I'm quite happy with the effort put in by every player.”
Barrett readily admits he was taken aback by initial criticism of how the original Group 2 selection trials were conducted.
He also agrees the brief storm over selections was indicative of fresh interest in representative football, once the poor relation of the bush game.
“Despite what was said at the time, I know in my own heart we were on the right track giving all those kids a chance to be noticed,” he said.
“Now, I've got more parents, family and supporters than ever before taking an interest in how the young blokes are progressing and finding out what opportunities there are for them.
“What we want is everybody working in the same direction.”
The junior Oxley Pioneers will train at 10am this Good Friday at Walcha.
Then (in what may prove to be an omen) it's on to Pioneer Oval in Parkes on Saturday, April 18 for a meeting with Northern Thunderbolts, first step in defence of the Country Championship title.
“If we win that, it's another game the following day against a side to be announced,” the coach said.
“Very exciting times are ahead of us and I hope everybody gets behind the boys and cheers them on.”
1 - Matt Nean (West Lions)
2 - Jie Smith (Gunnedah)
3 - Reece Jaeger (Gunnedah)
4 - Jerome Hammond (Moree)
5 - Kyle McGregor (Forster Tuncurry)
6 - Kyle Gallen (Gunnedah)
7 - Dean Hurrell (Wauchope)
8 - Andy Mack (Farrer)
9 - Cameron Rodgers (Farrer)
10 - Danny Cooper (Macleay Valley)
11 - Alex Hull (Bellingen)
12 - Kristian Kelly (Macksville)
13 - Kurt Resch (North Tamworth)
14 - Ben Groenwen (Orara Valley)
15 - Kyle Turner (Coonabarabran)
16 - Will Ghilotti (Macksville)
17 - Ethan Hyde (Port City)
18 - Simon Fokes (Forster Tuncurry)
Coach: Peter Barrett (Coffs Harbour)
Assistant: Ron Dellar (Werris Creek)
Managers: Wayne Bridge (Wingham) and Peter Blom (Dungowan)
Trainers: Graham Goodwin (Taree City), Dean Jarrett (Macksville), Matt Parsons (Werris Creek)