NARRABRI Blues can end the domination of Group 4 by the two Tamworth clubs, West Lions and North Tamworth, even though the club has lost almost half of last year’s first grade roster, has a new first grade coach and a new club president.
Jason Barnes has succeeded Jamie Russ as president at the Blues after Russ’s fine efforts over the past half dozen years.
Another club stalwart, John Rumsby, is the first grade coach, taking over from young captain-coach Sean Russ, who stays on as a leader on the field.
The Blues start their Group 4 season with a big local derby against Wee Waa Panthers at Captain Cook Oval, Wee Waa on Sunday.
They go into that derby after an unbeaten and unlucky Group 4 knockout.
They drew 20-all with the young West Lions and beat Oxley Diggers but were undone by a lesser for and against, enabling the Lions to play North Tamworth in a KO Final they ultimately lost 22-8.
“We’re unbeaten in normal time so far this season,” Barnes said.
“We’re missing seven of last year’s first grade side.
“Brendan Davey has gone to New Zealand, Ian Leota is playing for South Grafton, Zac Russ is at Norths and Daniel Howe is playing with Central Charlestown.
“Todd Nichols, who drove home from University in Newcastle each weekend last year, is playing with Lakes United I think.
“His younger brother, Jacob Nichols, is just out of the 18s.”
Jacob played hooker for the Blues at the Knockout where the Tago clan showed they might be valuable recruits.
“Brendan Tago played for the Roosters Under 20s the past two years,” Barnes said.
“His cousin Charles Tago played in the centre and Charles’s brother Joseph is also coming as well.
“We have also signed big Troy Hopa so those four Samoan boys give us a bit of size.
“Sean (Russ) is playing too although he didn’t play in the KO and Jake Rumsby, John’s son – who played for the Raider Under 20s last year – is also back.
“Justin Knight is also back too.
“He’s Billy’s son and plays just like him.”
Billy Knight exploded onto the Group 4 landscape in the mid ’80s as an exceptionally gifted pivot with Tamworth City and then Wee Waa.
“I played against Gunna (Billy). He was the only person I’ve seen chip and chase three times in the one play,” Barnes said.
He is also hopeful Brenton Cochrane will play with the Blues as well as playing rugby union with the Blue Boars.
“We’ve also got a great bunch of kids coming through,” he said.