Central North Rugby: Moree and Walcha to clash for grand final berth

New kid on the block: Harry Locke has slotted in well at fullback for Walcha and will have an important role to play against Moree on Saturday.
New kid on the block: Harry Locke has slotted in well at fullback for Walcha and will have an important role to play against Moree on Saturday.

Harry Locke’s transformation from half-back to fullback might have been instigated more through necessity than design, but the 24-year old has relished the switch.

Hailing from a family of half-backs, Locke played nine up until a recent stint in New Zealand.

“I was playing for a club called Methven,” Locke said.

“We had about three half-backs in the side and not many players, so the coach threw me in there.”

He loved it, enjoying “having a bit more open space”, and the overall experience.

“I absolutely loved the footy over there,” he said.

“The culture of the rugby over there, the whole community gets behind it.”

On Saturday, Locke will wear the 15 as Walcha tackle Moree for a shot at grand final redemption against Pirates.

It will be his taste of Central North finals footy after having a bit of a run in second grade last season.

Stepping up to first grade this season, he found himself in a similar situation to Methven with the Rams not lacking half-backs.

Subsequently he played the first six games on the wing with Thor Crombie wearing the nine.

After pushing into half-back for a couple of games, Locke moved to fullback the first game of the second round and has been there virtually ever since.

The only player in the backline that wasn’t part of last years grand final heart-break, Locke admitted to a few nerves initially about the job of filling the prolific shoes of long-time fullback Ed Churchill.

Regarded as one of the Rams’ most dynamic players, Churchill had also built up the kind of understanding with his fellow backs that only time together can. 

Locke is still “pretty new to it” and as he said is “not Ed”, but hasn’t looked out of place and has grown in the role with each game.

It’s helped having the likes of Simon Newton to guide him, and work off.

The Rams were impressive in their elimination final but are under no illusions that they will have to step their game up on Saturday.

“Moree will be tough, they’re a great side,” Locke said.

“We’re playing with form and so are they. It will be all up to the day.”

The two have won one apiece, the respective victories both coming on the road.

Locke didn’t play the last game, and isn’t taking too much out of the first meeting.

“We certainly weren’t the team we are now,” he said.

He spoke about getting the simple things right, and will be hoping the forwards can provide the platform they have in recent weeks.

The Bulls have named an unchanged lineup from the one that was narrowly beaten by Pirates in the qualifying final, five-eighth Jamie Sampson and winger Josh Walker both backing up after helping the Moree Boomerangs claim the Group 19 premiership.

They too will be looking to the forwards to lead the charge.

“If our forwards can put it together,” Bulls co-coach Peter Copeman said.

“We’ve never had a forward pack this big against anyone other than Pirates.”

They really stepped up against the premiers, particularly in the scrums.

“We’re hoping they do the same thing tomorrow,” Copeman said, acknowledging how important the forward battle is to nullifying the influence of the Walcha backs.

Copeman said there was “not too much” to brush up on this week but spoke about being careful where they kick. They don’t want to be giving the “very dangerous” Rams back three easy counter-attacking opportunities.

They’ve also got to make sure they defend well in the midfield.

Here’s how they will line up:

MOREE: 1 Hayden Wiblen, 2 Will Carrigan, 3 John Adams, 4 James Gall, 5 Angus Smith, 6 Nathan Ebbett ©, 7 Sam Callow, 8 Matthew Wannan, 9 Nick Smith, 10 Jamie Sampson, 11 Josh Walker, 12 Ben Williams, 13 Jordan Cosh, 14 Mitch Adams, 15 Kyle O'Connor,16 Lachlan Smith, 17 Andrew Fuller, 18 Jack Maunder, 19 Maciu Latabua, 20 Dan Coulthurst, 21 Heath Riggs, 22 Tim Cassegrain, 23 Nathan Porter

WALCHA: 1 Ross Fletcher, 2 Dave Healey, 3 Mike Whitton, 4 Sione Kamoto, 5 Sandy Cameron, 6 Henry King, 7 Thor Crombie, 8 Will Fletcher ©, 9 Angus Mactavish, 10 Simon Newton, 11 Dom Bower, 12 Pat Keen, 13 Ed Cordingley, 14 Richard Young, 15 Harry Locke 16 Gideon Kelly 17 Sam Colwell 18 Tom Rose 19 Hayden Jarmen  20 Charlie McGowan 21 Ed Blomfield 22 Charlie Keen 23 Jacob Sherrin 24 Brad Partridge