It took a bit of persuasion in some cases but North West Bushrangers coach Andrew Collins has no doubt the combined Central North/New England side can take out the Richardson Shield at Warren this weekend.
There have been the customary couple of late withdrawals to cause some disruption but Collins couldn’t be much happier with the squad he has got.
Taking on the job, he wasn’t quite sure how it would all come together.
Fortunately he was able to coax several of his Pirates team-mates into playing, and has been able to build a strong squad around them.
It’s a good mix of ‘old heads’ and young guns, and possesses both size and speed, Collins believing their size will be one of the Bushrangers’ strongest attributes.
“We’ve got some big boys. We’ve got some big second rowers, which is good,” he said referring to Barraba’s Lachlan Mack and Quirindi’s Tom Grant.
Pirates’ Andrew Mepham and Armidale’s Navi Tiko similarly provide some “big bodies” in the centres.
Mepham was impressive for Pirates in their grand final reply against Walcha.
“He ran all over the top of Pat Keen and Simon Newton last week,” Collins said.
They’ll be complimented outwide by the speed and zip of Lewyn Rapana, Jake Hartmann and Oscar Hunt.
With the prominence of Pirates’ in the pack, the scrum is expected to be a real weapon. The backrow also looks formidable, Jack Shelton getting the nod to start at seven against hosts Western Plains on Saturday afternoon alongside Doug Biffin and Conrad Starr.
“He (Shelton) was unreal for us against Walcha,” Collins said.
Starr is a notable inclusion. Arguably the most damaging ball-runner in the competition, the Pirates skipper hasn’t played rep footy since the year Tamworth hosted the Country Championships, and admittedly thought he’d “put all my rep football to bed”.
That was until Collins came along.
“All the boys started to get on board with Tank (Collins) and what he was doing and then he started asking me,” he said.
“I thought it’d give it a go. I’m enjoying my footy.”
He is also playing as well as he ever has with Pirates coach constantly remarking that, like a fine wine, he is getting better with age.
It did take a bit of coaxing.
“He (Collins) kept mentioning it and mentioning it, and said we’ll talk more about it after training,” he said.
Eventually he relented.
He believes there being so many Pirates in the squad will help them. They’ve only really had the one training run together.
“It’s hard to put combinations together, especially when you are so spread,” he said.
“At least we’ve got a core of good Pirates guys that know each other well.”
It will be a step up, but he shares Collins’ faith that they can claim the silverware.
Barraba’s Tom Mellor has been a late addition to the squad, coming in for Collins’ brother Sam who is out with injury, and can play pretty well anywhere in the backline.
Should the Bushrangers win on Saturday they will play either Far North Coast or Central Coast on Sunday for the Richardson Shield.
Keen and fellow Walcha back Ed Cordingley will line-up for Mid North Coast as they step up to the Caldwell Cup.
Central North and New England will meanwhile both field sides in the women’s sevens competition.
NORTH WEST BUSHRANGERS: 1 Hayden Griffiths (Pirates), 2 Tim Collins (Pirates), 3 Andrew Collins (Pirates), 4 Tom Grant (Quirindi), 5 Lachlan Mack (Barraba), 6 Doug Biffin (Pirates), 7 Sam Collins (Pirates), 8 Conrad Starr (Pirates), 9 James Trappel (Pirates), 10 Joe Hinchey (Gunnedah), 11 Will Morley (Narrabri), 12 Andrew Mepham (Pirates), 13 Navi Tiko (Armidale Blues), 14 Lewyn Rapana (Pirates), 15 Jake Hartman (Pirates); Bench: 16 Jared Mitchell (Barbarians), 17 Tyson Waters (Barbarians), 18 Ben Goodman (Pirates), 19 Jack Shelton (Pirates), 20 Cooper Thompson (Magpies), 21 Oscar Hunt (Gunnedah), 22 Alan Sullivan (Barbarians), 23 Toby Knight (Narrabri), 24 Rhys Graham (Barbarians), 25 Matthew Hubbard (Barbarians)
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