NORTH Tamworth Bears and Narrabri Blues fight a battle of youthful mobility in tomorrow’s Group 4 first grade minor semi-final at Jack Woolaston Oval, North Tamworth.
The two sides line up in a knockout semi at close to full strength with a host of talented young players to call on.
The North Bears have been relishing the displays of three Under 18s – Callum Hayne, Jake Cocking and Dylan Manicaros – in recent weeks.
The trio, who have helped Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School to a Uni Shield semi final, play tomorrow’s first grade minor semi and then slip back into the Bear Under 18s for the major semi-final against Gunnedah tomorrow week.
“They have been playing well,” North Tamworth coach Brad McManus said.
“A great bunch of kids. Dylan has been playing so well, he’ll start at lock, pushing Chinny (Shane Wadwell) to the second row.
“We have a young, mobile side, a far cry from the big packs we used to have when we won five premierships in a row. The pack might have weighed 600 to 7000kg – a lot different now.”
McManus’ decision to move backrower Marshall Barker to prop earlier in the season to “get him more involved” has worked a treat.
Barker picked up a string of NDL Group 4 Best & Fairest Award points and is favoured to pick up that award when the Group 4 Awards Night is held at the Gunnedah Services & Bowling Club on Wednesday, September 4.
“Marshall has been outstanding in the middle,” McManus said.
“Getting the ball in his hands more often has made a big difference.”
Having a fast, mobile side makes for a different game plan to the one McManus played, and won, when he was a rampaging big, ball playing prop for the Bears.
“That’s the way the game has gone,” he said.
“I’m pretty happy with what we’ve got. Narrabri are a good, young side too.
“They’ll be flying high after beating West Lions last week too.”
The Blues will bring a full strength side to Tamworth for tomorrow’s minor semi with captain-coach Sean Russ a possible starter at halfback.
The tough tackling pivot has featured at five-eighth in in the running to win a third successive NDL Group 4 Best & Fairest Award after some brilliant displays in recent weeks.
Russ could start at halfback with Peter Quirk at five eighth tomorrow in one of the few changes to a side which has beaten Gunnedah and West in recent weeks.
Young players such fullback Michael Skillicorn and goalkicking hooker Todd Nichols have been outstanding form, said club president Jamie Russ.
“Michael is all arms and legs,” he said of number one who plays a lot like injured St George custodian Josh Dugan.
“I don’t know how many ties he saved last Sunday. Todd has been playing well too despite driving back from uni in Newcastle every weekend.”
Nichols is studying for an engineering degree at Newcastle University.
One of Narrabri’s best has also been young backrower Daniel Howe.
‘He’s just out of the 18s,” Russ said.
“He’s quick and a great defender. We’re lucky to have had him come through year after losing Jake Rumsby (Canberra Under 20s).”
Howe’s speed around the park makes him a valuable attacker on the fringes and also a deadly defender with his captain-coach Sean Russ.