PREMIERS West Lions tackle a bruised and battered Gunnedah Bulldogs at Kitchener Park today as Group 4 rugby league resumes following the representative weekend.
Last Saturday’s Greater Northern Championships took its toll on the Shane Rampling-coached Gunnedah side.
Of the five Bulldogs who played for Group 4 on Saturday, four of them went home injured.
The biggest loss is captain Trent Hilton who will miss a few weeks with a calf injury.
Hilton will be joined on the sideline this week by Toby Morris (shoulder), Jason Smith (shoulder), and Tyler Flemming(neck), as well as others from earlier in the season.
Rampling labelled it a “nightmare” at the moment as eight or nine players are out injured.
“We were cruising along pretty good before this,” Rampling said.
“We have had to get reserve grade players to step up and even get some 18s in reserves. It is testing our depth but we should be right.”
The Bulldogs have had a dream start to the season with three wins and no losses, including a two-point thriller at Wee Waa.
Fortunately, they still have a very strong pack, and hooker Ollie Neader will take the captain’s band and lead them around.
The Bulldogs aim to take Wests head on and beat them with their forwards.
“We have named a few targets in their defence,” Rampling said.
“Then we will get plenty of go-forward and work off the back of that.”
With DJ Smith also out with a broken ankle, halfback Matt Brady has stepped up and is leading the way for the backs.
The Bulldogs defence won the game against Narrabri and gave them plenty of confidence to go on with it.
The Blues were camped on Gunnedah’s line in the first half but the Bulldogs held them out before piling on the points in the second half to win 56-22.
That was their first win over Narrabri for two years.
From the coach’s point of view, this week is a must-win game.
“It is a great opportunity to take two points from Wests and give us some breathing space on the table between them and Narrabri,” Rampling said.
“It could be massive and make all the difference at the end of the season.
“We targeted four or five wins in the first round.”
Group 4’s other two matches will be played tomorrow when cellar-dwelling Oxley Diggers travel to Wee Waa and unbeaten North Tamworth tackles Narrabri Blues at Collins Park, Narrabri.