NEW Armidale coaches Damien Schmude and Luke Stephen are buoyed by the young talent coming through the club ahead of the Blues’ tilt at an historic fourth straight New England premiership.
The pair have taken over the first grade coaching reins from long-time coach Anthony McMillan and are two of the most respected figures within the zone.
For Schmude, it’s full circle.
He was part of the Blues’ side that won the title in their inaugural year in 2003 and enjoyed a distinguished career before hanging up the boots in 2005.
Mostly a fullback, he, with brothers Paul and Dave, formed one of the most formidable backlines in the competition and were a key part of Armidale Old Boys’ dominance.
They won eight of the 11 titles between 1992 and 2002 before merging with City United to form the Blues.
The two bring different skillsets to the role and believe they will complement each other well.
“Damien, of course being a very successful former player in the competition, brings a lot of experience,” Stephen said.
“I bring some of the technical forward knowledge.”
He’ll look after them and Schmude the backs.
Stephen’s coaching resume includes lower grades for the Blues, as well as the zone representative sides before taking on the New England director of coaching role.
Schmude looked after the Blues seconds last year, with Mark Charter, and was always keen to move into coaching.
“I always wanted to give back to the club,” he said.
“I’ve got four young boys ranging from two-and-a-half to 12.
“The timing was right the last couple of years.”
Stephen said they are fortunate to have been involved with the club and their respective predecessors over many years, and have a fair idea of what’s ahead of them.
“We realise when you come off a successful season there’s always different player movements as well as being the hunted,” Stephen said.
From what they know so far they have lost breakaway Angus Webb, second-rower Jack Hodges and Nicola Furlan.
“They’re a loss not only on the field but have been great contributors off the field,” Stephen said.
Schmude added that with those guys leaving it would be a somewhat different core, and they will need some regrouping, but touched on the club’s depth.
“We know for sure there is some great depth in the club,” he said.
Both are excited about seeing some of the young talent in action.
“We do have a lot of very talented juniors coming through,” Stephen said.
He mentioned names like Riley Hopwood, Harrison Dickson, Matt Williams and Brennan Czinner.
The pair are also strongly focused on what happens off the field.
They want to make sure the clubs’ values remain, and create a positive environment.
Training will get underway in February.