JEFF Aldridge has returned for a 17th successive year as head coach of the NIAS Touch program.
The Tamworth crane operator hopes to lift his 16-strong squad to higher levels through their regular training sessions and a January trip to Sydney to play and train against stronger touch squads from various academies.
Aldridge will be assisted by former Tamworth touch rep Steve Young.
“Steve played here a fair while ago,” Aldridge recalled at the first session for the new squad in Tamworth recently.
“He was a member of the good Under 20 and open men’s sides we had back then.
“He then moved to Victoria and played for Victoria as well.
“This is our first session with the kids, our first official training.
“We’ll be holding them once a month at all the different centres.
“The players range in age and are from right across the region.
“We’ve got some from as far south as Coolah and go right up to Glen Innes, where Maddison Cook is from.
“And while we train once a month, we’re also off to Sydney in late January where we will play other academies over a four-day weekend.
“They will get to play stronger teams and see what level they will need to be to compete at the Junior State Cup in February.
“Hopefully what they learn at our training camps and in Sydney will help them go back to their towns and help them be more competitive at the Junior State Cup.”
Aldridge also had an important function in Blazes at West Leagues on Saturday night.
He attended the Centenary Reunion Dinner for West Tamworth Rugby League Football Club.
“I played my first year in 1969 in the juniors,” Alddridge recalled.
“I smashed my shoulder in 1974.
“Playing first grade under Bill Bischoff as an 18-year-old was great for me.
“I played on the wing in 1972 when West won it.
“We had some great players like Geoff Sheedy.”
He was so enthused by the centenary celebrations he made sure he bought one of the halfback (7) jumpers being auctioned for charity.