PARRAMATTA Eels have accepted an invitation to “race early” to Armidale before they play Newcastle Knights in Saturday week’s NRL pre-season match in the city while also providing an opportunity for the region’s talented young rugby league players to shine against the Sydney club’s own teenage stars.
Armidale Jockey Club secretary Jim Dedes yesterday confirmed Eels coaching staff – Ricky Stuart, Luke Burt, Dean Pay and Matt Parrish – as well as club officials have accepted an invite to attend Monday’s Walcha Cup Prelude meeting at Armidale Racecourse.
“They were all coming up Tuesday anyway,” Dedes said.
“So we contacted the UNE’s David Schmude and extended the invitation.
“Dave got them organised and they’ll come up and have an enjoyable afternoon at the races.
“Having the Eels here for the week is great for the town.
“They train here all week and then play on the Saturday.
“We’re also expecting good noms for the Walcha Cup Prelude day.
“The winner of the Prelude is exempt from ballot for the Walcha Cup so we do expect to get some good horses.
“It’s also a public holiday but only us and Wellington are racing on Monday.”
Greater Northern Academy head coach Peter Stevens said Saturday week’s Eels game against Newcastle would have a valuable spin-off for his talented young footballers as well.
They will play the Parramatta Harold Matthews Cup (Under 16) and SG Ball (Under 18) teams as curtainraisers to the Eels-Knights trial.
“I don’t expect our two squads to beat the Eels juniors,” he said.
‘They (Eels) have been training four days a week the last 10 to 12 weeks and are about to start their competitions (Harold Matthews Cup and SG Ball) the week after we play them.
“They extended an invitation for us to play them and it was too good an offer to turn them down.”
Two GNA teams, a Yellow and a Maroon side, will match up against the Eels.
“They both play two 35-minute halves – that will test us on the fitness front.
“I think we will go well for a while but they should have us for fitness.
“We had our first training session back yesterday (Sunday at Werris Creek) and we had a good session.
“Everyone is keen to play and they got through a fair bit but it’s going to test us.
“The matches are a challenge, fitness-wise but also a good stepping stone for our kids to see where they’ve got to be.
“And they are playing kids in the Eels system.
“One of our kids could jump up out of the ground and impress the Eels so the opportunity is there for them all to show up.
“Parramatta and UNE have been very good to us as well – helped us out for these games.
“Hopefully Parramatta will continue with the UNE link and keep inviting us.
“It’s a good promotion for us as well and may help us pick up more kids for the GNA program.
“It could be there is an avenue there for the kids.”
The Parramatta matches are the start of a big playing month for the GNA.
They head to Kurri Kurri for games against the Hunter Academy then play the Western Academies in games in Tamworth before tackling the two North Coast Academies in a tri-Academy weekend on the same day as the Newcastle-Cronulla NRL pre-season match at Tamworth’s Scully Park on February 23.
“We’ll be playing those games at Farrer and then finishing in time for the boys to be able to get to Scully and watch the two NRL sides,” Stevens said.