North Tamworth will take a huge step up in class when they face 2019 Newcastle grand finalists Cessnock in the NSW Challenge Cup in Cessnock on Saturday night.
The reigning six-time premiers will clash with the Goannas in a round one clash of the knockout preseason competition, in which 2019 grand finalists from across the state have been invited to attend.
While no former NRL players will be in the Cessnock side, there will be players who have lined up for Newcastle's representative side, the Rebels.
North Tamworth coach Brad McManus, back at the helm after a two-year absence, said the contest was "uncharted waters" for the side.
He said Cessnock - the former club of Andrew and Matthew Johns and formed in 1911 - would provide a level of competition that was "a lot different to what we're used to".
We're not goin' down there for a holiday- Brad McManus
"We'll go down and give it a crack and see how we go," he said, adding that the Bears were "not goin' down there for a holiday".
"It's not every day you get a chance to play a quality side like that. It will be a good learning curve for our blokes [and] we'll go from there."
North Tamworth will travel to Cessnock without four of their best players from last season. Kieran Fisher and Shane Wadwell have retired, while Josh Schmiedel and Andrew Moodie have not re-signed. Veteran centre Richard Clegg will also be missing due to personal reasons.
"It's gonna be a lot different side compared to what we've been used to the last six years," said McManus, who played SG Ball Cup and Jersey Flegg Cup with the Newcastle Knights.
"It will give these young blokes an opportunity to step up to first grade," he added.
Cessnock secretary Cherie Douglas said the Goannas would boast a "combination of seasoned campaigners" and "some of our younger up-and-coming stars". "It's good a mix," she said.
In earlier Challenge Cup matches at the ground on Saturday, the Wyong Roos play the Asquith Magpies and then the Western Suburbs Rosellas and Ryde Eastwood clash.
The Bears and the Goannas' match starts at 6pm.
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