GUNNEDAH will be out to cut down another of the big three at Gunnedah today.
After rolling defending premiers Moree last week, the Red Devils have their sights on competition leaders Pirates, and could be striking them at a good time.
Already crippled by injury, Pirates will be without Country breakaway Josh Stewart and also star centre Jake Douglas.
He hasn’t been named after injuring his neck in last week’s win over Inverell.
The Red Devils haven’t escaped the injuries though and will be without outside centre Scott Mitchell, fullback James Perrett and breakaway Jeremy Brown.
They were comprehensively beaten last time they faced Pirates but know where they need to be better.
“We’ve got to defend a lot better,” co-coach Tim Walsh said.
“They did some pretty simple things but we fell for them time and time again.”
“We need to read what they’re going to do better.”
They have improved in a lot of areas since that game and will, as well, need to be a lot more effective at the breakdown than they were then.
Stewart and Douglas particularly turned over a fair bit of ball – what the Red Devils didn’t cough up.
“Our work at the breakdown is a lot better,” Walsh said.
“Ben Colley (Moree breakaway) never made a turnover.”
It’s no secret that Pirates have been struggling in the set pieces, the scrums especially, and it won’t come as any surprise that the Red Devils see a real opportunity there.
“We’ve done it against everyone,” Walsh said.
“Our scrum and lineout is where we attack a lot from and has worked so well for us.”
Their pick and drive game has also become a real attacking weapon and they’ll be looking to utilise that too.
Pirates coach Andrew Verrell is under no illusions about the challenge they’ll face, especially in the forwards, and is bracing for more scrum pain with another new front row combination.
“We’re back to square one,” Verrell said.
He has no doubt the Red Devils will look to attack them there, and generally through the forwards.
“You look at their last two scoresheets and the majority of their tries have come out of Matt Hannay and Josh Howarth,” he said.
“That paints a picture for us.”
“They’d see us as vulnerable and want to have a crack.”
“We’ve got to try to blunt that.”
They did a reasonably good job of that against Narrabri two weeks ago but today will be another test.
“In general play the main thing us putting them on the deck and maybe we have a chance,” he said.
“Try to stop them getting that momentum and roll-on and see if maybe we can pinch a bit of ball.”
It worked for them last time.