PIRATES and Inverell will be drawing the battle lines at Inverell Rugby Park tomorrow when they clash in the match of round 17 of the Bayer Central North competition.
The semi-final aspirations of both sides will be riding on the outcome of the match, and right in the thick of the action in the engine room will be Pirates' league recruit Darren Hartin.
Having played for Bendemeer for three years in the Group 4 second division, Hartin hung up his league boots at the end of last season and made the switch to union, where he has established himself in the specialist position of loosehead prop.
Hartin has made the transition with relative ease, forming a formidable combination with front-row partners John Ward and Ray Brown.
"The front row's been good all year," he said.
While he is still coming to terms with some of the finer aspects of front-row play and the art of scrummaging, Hartin has been a consistently strong performer for the Buccaneers and has impressed coach Scott Leis with the speed with which he has adapted to the game and his position.
"With Wardy (John Ward) and Ray (Brown) there, for Daz to step up into such an experienced front row, he's become a stronger front rower," Leis said.
"We really miss him when he's not there."
"He's a thinker and he's picked up the game really quickly."
Hartin is looking forward to tomorrow's clash and a good, physical, tough battle in the forwards.
"We have to dominate in the scrum and hopefully we can get our backline to fire," Hartin said. "We haven't really clicked yet."
On a personal level, Hartin will be looking for more opportunities to run with the ball, and knows he will have to be strong up the front against the Highlanders.
And after two grand finals and a major semi-final appearance in league, Hartin is hoping that a premiership will finally come his way.
"It's a goal to try to find a premiership somewhere before I get too old," he joked.
In the other Central North clashes, Walcha hosts front-running Bulls, Gunnedah travels to Quirindi and Narrabri is at home to Barraba.