Could this be the week that Pirates’ winning streak ends? Will the reigning premiers’ long-suffering rivals finally smell blood? All will be answered soon.
Pirates travel to Barraba-Gwydir on Saturday eyeing 30 straight wins. But they will do so with a side hit hard by player losses.
The jarring reality of Pirates coach Mat Kelly’s “we’re going as good as can be expected at this time of the year” comment became clear as he reeled off a long list of player losses through injury, rep footy and an overseas jaunt.
Three players – Andrew Moodie (broken arm), Lewyn Rapana (hamstring) and Doug Biffin (knee) – are casualties of Pirates’ last-start 71-7 home defeat of Inverell on June 2.
Cameron Howard will make his first-grade debut for Pirates at fullback following James Trappel’s departure to Scotland for what Kelly says is a “few weeks”.
“He’s [Howard] new to the club,” Kelly said. “He’s earned his shot and gets a start.”
In another blow, Andrew Collins will miss the match. He lines up for NSW Country against Brumbies Provincial at Camden Rugby Club in Sydney on Sunday.
Kelly said a positive of Collins’ loss was that the experience he gained from the match would "filter through to all the boys” when he returned home.
In another plus, Andrew Mepham returns to the side at centre.
Kelly bemoaned the loss of No.10 Moodie and No.14 Rapana.
He said Rapana had been playing “fantastic all year” while Moodie’s leadership would be sorely missed, along with “everything else he brings to the side”.
“He’s [Moodie] a big loss for us,” the coach said, adding: “We’re dealing with a few injuries at the moment, as a lot of clubs are … Hopefully we can weather this little injury season at the moment that we’re going through.”
“Where we are on the table, it does allow us to rest a few … to err on the side of caution,” he added.
In other matches, Scone host Gunnedah, Narrabri host Moree and Quirindi travel to Inverell.
In New England Rugby, Tamworth host Albies.