HE was the best player in the New England competition last year and Mitch Wheaton appears to have brought that form with him to Tamworth.
Wheaton has traded the green and red of St Alberts for the black and white of the Magpies, and has been a valuable addition to their forward stocks as he showed against Quirindi on Saturday.
The second-rower was a huge presence and scooped the accolades, polling the zone and club three best and fairest points and picking up the players’ vote.
It was just his fourth game for the Magpies. He played the first two before heading over to the US for a month.
He was tempted to stay longer but decided to come back, and pull the boots on again, something the Magpies are glad he did.
“It’s good to be back playing a bit of footy,” Wheaton said.
On Saturday he was a real powerhouse for the Magpies.
He was strong taking the ball up, busy in defence, finished with a couple of tries and set up another one.
That came after a strong run where he seemingly ghosted through the Quirindi defence and took the Magpies from within their half to around the 22.
He managed to stay on his feet long enough for the support to get to him and from the ensuing ruck the Magpies earned a penalty, and then a penalty try.
Wheaton said he had found the rugby a bit different to what he experienced the last few seasons in the New England competition with St Alberts, and conceded it has taken a bit to adapt.
“The big thing I’ve noticed is it’s a bit tighter in the forwards,” he said.
That’s not saying they haven’t got the pace, but generally the game is quicker up there.
The front rows were also a lot bigger, which he remarked, made a big difference too.
The Magpies forwards have really been holding the fort the last couple of seasons, and have again been providing a strong platform.
“The forwards are starting to gel,” Wheaton said.
There has been a lot of changes week to week but they’re starting to get a settled line-up.
Saturday too allowed them to play a bit looser and the likes of Wheaton, captain Rhys Duncan and Harry Veitch revelled in it.
It’s something Wheaton was accustomed to in his Albies days.
He said he was really enjoying his footy with the Magpies.
The wins are helping, although he’s only been there for the last couple.
The Lions result pushed the Magpies to second and has them in a strong position to press for a major semi-final spot.