NEWCASTLE Knights second-rower Chris Houston helped Tamworth celebrate the achievements of its sportsmen and women last night.
Houston was the special guest at the Tamworth Regional Sports Awards where shooter John Sleightholme, boxer Lynken Dickson, hockey star Sam Liles and thrower Jessica Aldridge took home the major accolades.
Sleightholme was judged the Sports Star of the Year after winning the national double rise national title and the overall high gun and being selected in the Australian team to shoot at the World Down The Line Championships.
The Australian team of which he was a part won gold in the teams event.
The Young Sports Star was a particularly tough category with the calibre of nominations and the judges couldn’t split Dickson and Liles.
Dickson won his division at the Ringside World Titles and has since been invited to train with the Australian youth team at the Australian Institute of Sport.
Liles has just returned from representing the Australian U21s in the Sultan of Johor Boru Cup.
The 17-year-old was also named player of the tour for the Australian Schoolboys and was part of the national title- winning NSW U18 side.
Aldridge won the Junior Sports Star category after a year which saw her win the U14s shot put and silver in the javelin at the Australian Junior Championships and take gold in both events at the CHS State Athletics Championships and NSW Junior Championships back in February.
The Junior Sports Team of the Year award went to the state-title winning Tamworth Public rugby squad, the Young Team of the Year the Pirates U16s and the Sports Team of the Year the State League basketball men.
Junior Coach of the Year was Peter McDonald and Coach of the Year Garry Walsh, while Trevor Wilcox was presented with the Ken McKenzie Services to Junior Sport Award, Wally Warner the Services to Sport, Tamworth Basketball Association the Sport Development Award and Mike Abra the Cara Hickson Memorial Award.
Houston’s visit coincided with the launch of ticket sales for the Knights’ NRL trial game in Tamworth against the Cronulla Sharks on February 23.
They go on sale today.
It was his first visit to Tamworth but won’t be his last to the region.
As well as the Tamworth game the Knights have a trial against Parramatta in Armidale on February 9.
“It’s nice to bring the game here,” Houston said.
It’s become custom to take the pre-season games out of the city and Houston said the players enjoy getting out and playing in different areas.
He knows first-hand the influence such visits can have.
“I remember growing up on the South Coast and watching the Roosters and the Broncos play a trial,” he recalled.
“I was maybe 13 or something.
“It inspired me to do what I’m doing.”
That is, preparing for his fifth season in the NRL.
He’s been back training for about two-and-a-half weeks now.
The Knights have added a few new faces to their roster for next season headlined by internationals Beau Scott and Jeremy Smith.
“The other thing is having Kurt (Gidley) back. He missed the majority of last year,” Houston said.
“They’re three quality players.”
The arrival of Scott and Smith has Houston on his toes, also being second- rowers.
The 27-year-old would love to cement a permanent spot and is looking to add a more attacking element to his game.
“I just want to be more effective in attack,” he said.
“Defence has been a more dominant part of my game.”
He said he and coach Wayne Bennett were working on bringing out more in attack.
Bennett’s first season in charge wasn’t as bright as the Knights would have hoped but, if there’s one area they need to improve in, it’s the way they start, Houston said.
“The start of games was a bit of a problem for us. We let teams score then we started playing footy,” he said.
“When you play the good teams you can’t afford to give them that lead.”
o Tickets to the trial are available at www.visittamworth.com and range from $20-$40.