A new club president, a new coach and a new-look starting Gloucester Cockies rugby union XV will confront the Myall Coast Mudcrabs at Gloucester Park on Saturday (April 22).
This, at least, is what new Gloucester president and veteran goal-kicking prop, Mick Wooster, anticipates when the Cockies meet the Mudcrabs in the third round of the Lower Mid North Coast rugby premiership, a season-changing scenario from the April 1 first-round loss to the Wallamba Bulls.
According to Wooster, the team whipped, 82-7, by Wallamba was a Gloucester side only in name with nine regular first graders in the run-on side and other players missing through employment and injury.
“I was really heartened by the lads’ reaction to that defeat and the spirit they showed,” Wooster said.
“They took it on the chin, had a few drinks with Wallamba and got stuck into training.
“We have a very young team again, a number of 16 and 17-year-olds.
“They need time and they need patience, but I’m confident they will produce the goods.”
Husky young forward Ethan Hamilton has returned after a season away in England while former representative hooker, Ben “Pumba” Williams, is back in the scrum beside Wooster with promising Ken Wamsley at breakaway
“We have so many young players, 16 years of age or thereabouts, and they need time to mature,” Wooster said.
“The player I think will be our secret weapon is Kieran Schneider, a NSW. State basketball representative.
“Kieran is a tall, lanky lad we have on the wing, but who we can use as a lineout forward with Ethan. He is strong in the air and a hard tackler, a very impressive young player.”
As was expected the club’s champions, Chris Marchant and Jamie “Emu” Andrews, are no longer in the Cockies’ front line; Marchant now a Mid North Coast Zone Axemen’s selector and Andrews hanging up the smartest pair of boots since former NSW Country and Forster Tuncurry Dolphins five-eighth, David Birch, partner of Test half Steve Merrick, went into retirement.
Successive four-time champions, the Forster Tuncurry Dolphins, begin their title defence on Saturday with a home game against the revitalised Old Bar Clams at Peter Barclay Field, Tuncurry, fielding some new faces but shaken by the number of off-season retirements of premiership players.
While the Dolphins have trained pleasingly under new coaches, Ron Rae and Paul Drake, the probable loss of last season’s player of the grand final, No 8 Colin Harris, one of the most versatile and damaging impact players with Chris Marchant in recent seasons, and others such as lock Rob McCabe, back Mark Colless, breakaway Brad Murray and utilities Chris Simon and Rob Avard are no longer available.
Replacing them come new forwards, Pat Randall, Jeremy Innes, Shaun Jackson and Tim Daczko with perhaps MNC Under-19 lock Lachlan Daczko returning from Canberra next month. More players would be welcome.
The game of the round will be the Wallamba Bulls’ clash with the Manning River Ratz at Nabiac Showground with Wallamba again led by Aaron Gordon, the big prop having made a splendid recovery from a leg injury.
The Bulls combination have trained with impressive numbers this Autumn and have gained two fine backs in centre James Hanford and winger Jake Schumaker, both of whom had outstanding games against Gloucester.