NARRABRI Blues can expect a typical Panther welcome with a lot of new faces when they arrive at Captain Cook Oval, Wee Waa tomorrow.
North Tamworth can expect the same when it hosts West Lions in today’s Group 4 grand final replay at Jack Woolaston Oval and Gunnedah Bulldogs tackle a completely new side, Oxley Diggers, at Kitchener Park tomorrow.
The Jamie Trindall-coached Diggers are a new club, one that might do it tough early on but one which is trying to help promote the game.
Group 4 president Barry Pratten said as much this week in that the club was formed to give players a chance at playing first division football and expects it to be tough in its formative year.
Mick Schmiedel, one of the workers behind the new club and its inaugural president, said it’s a side made up of “second division players and second graders” given a chance under Jamie Trindall and Damien Allan.
Some of their efforts at the recent Group 4 KO were encouraging.
North Tamworth Bears also showed they are premiership favourites with their KO win while the West Lions, under Chris Hunt, went better than anyone thought.
While West Lions lost their coach and some star players and looked like they might might fold, they have retained a core of players under captain-coach Chris Hunt, Shane Salvador, Sam Taylor and Ben Jarvis who can ensure the Lions are competitive.
Young rising stars such as Jake McLoughlin, Mitch Doring, Tom Hine and Dylan Lake give them some talented teenagers to build on while new centre James Blackburn adds thrust out wide.
The Bears have retained most of last year’s side under coach Brad McManus and skipper Marshall Barker.
The return of former captain-coach Shaun Ferguson is a major bonus and, while he might come off the bench today, he will be a key man along with the likes of Shane Wadwell and new halves pairing Kieran Fisher and Abel Carney.
At Wee Waa the Panthers might have lost eight or nine of last year’s first grade side, a couple of whom – Justin Knight and Neil Gibbs – might be in the Blues lineup tomorrow but the Adrian Sunderland-coached side will have plenty of punch.
Ken Anderson, who has stepped down as club president because of his work commitments with the Wee Waa Bowling Club, hopes to play at some stage.
Anderson, who has swapped positions with Paul Hurrell, Anderson to club vice president and Hurrell going from VP to president, believes the Panthers will give the Blues plenty to think about.
“It’s a local derby,” he said.
“The boys trained well Wednesday night and they are all looking forward to the season actually kicking off. It has been a long pre-season.”
He said the addition of four Walgett players was a boost to a side also welcoming back Beau Seaton and Ben Power.
“Beau broke his cheekbone last year but has bulked up over the off season and is looking good,” Anderson said.
“He and Ben give us a handy backrow.
“Dave Cruickshank and Dan Hamilton are back as well and we have picked big Iowane from Narrabri. He’ll be good at prop for us.”
Anderson also believes Sam Knight will be a great addition to the side.
“He hasn’t played for five or six years,” he said of the former Farrer star. “He’s been off rodeoing, saddle bronc riding.
“But he’s moved back now and will play fullback or centre. He’s been training the house down.”
The Blues have new coach John Rumsby and he will be blending in the Tago trio – Brendan, Charles and Joseph – to a new-look side with big prop Troy Hopa, former Panther Justin Knight and a number of promising players such as Jacob Nichols and Michael Skillicorn.