TODAY’S local derby at Rugby Park could make or break the Magpies’ and Pirates’ seasons as both sides try to recover from first-round losses.
The new Central North system has made early-season points vital and two straight losses could spell the beginning of the end for any team.
Pirates will be looking to stamp some dominance on the competition after a two- point loss to Narrabri, while the Tamworth Magpies will be looking to prove they belong in the top tier come the middle of the season.
The last time the two sides met there was 100 points in it, although this season’s Magpies have a whole new look.
There will be several match- ups to watch but the best will be the battle of the number sevens.
Pirates’ Josh Stewart is the incumbent Cockatoo flanker and former Country Colts captain.
On the other side is the up and coming Harry Veitch, the current Country Colts captain who is already in the form of his life this season after starring at the Country Championships.
Disrupting, pilfering and slowing the ball down at the breakdowns could win the game for either side, and these two are the men to do it.
Tamworth is playing two opensides for that very reason with workhorse Jimmy Bracken pulling on the number six.
Another match-up to watch will be former West Lions league premiership captain Brendan Hunt opposing the Pirates and Central North pivot Andrew Moodie.
Both sides have dangerous outside backs so whoever dominates that battle and gets their backline running will score points.
Mike Carr will be making his first grade debut for Pirates at hooker against his former club as well.
New Pirates import Tim Fonua has added some valuable height and go forward to the Pirates and was impressive in his debut last weekend.
Pirates will be missing Bart Leach and Doug Biffin but will welcome back Jake Douglas.
Tamworth will miss Scott Rolls, John Herdegen, Bryce Daniels and Rhys Duncan from its regular line-up.
Duncan had a suspected spinal scare last week but has been given the all clear and will return to the field after Easter.
Pirates coach Andrew Verrell said in some respects the Pirates were going in blind.
“They are a completely different side to last year,” Verrell said.
“It is always tough at Rugby Park anyway so we have to be very focused and not drop our guard.
“Our ability to defend is key to this game and the season.”
Tamworth coach Ross Duncan is looking to step up the Magpies’ physicality to match the bigger Pirates pack.
“We can’t allow them to bully us and have to match them for 80 minutes,” Duncan said.
“We are looking to get up fast and cut down their space as much as we can.”
“If we are going to be serious this season we have to step up to their level.”
Reserve grade will kick off at 1.30pm with the top grade at 3.15pm.