THE Hunter Valley Group 21 Rugby League men’s under-23 representative squad sent a strong message to its rivals at the 2018 Greater Northern Championships.
And, there’s no reason the side can’t do it again when it takes the field at the regional trials at Scully Park, Tamworth, on February 9.
Group 21 won last year’s tournament at Scone following impressive victories over the Group 4 Bushrangers 30-18 and Group 19 48-18.
As a result of that success, 12 players forced their way into the Tigers line-up.
It’s something well-respected coach Gary Gardner is hoping to replicate in a fortnight’s time.
“Even though the nucleus of the team has returned, we’ve lost a bit of top grade-higher honour experience in the likes of Dylan Thorne and Bailey Wooden,” he said.
“But, in saying that, having Isaac Austin (Scone) and Andrew Pritchard (Denman) back is a major plus.
“I’m pretty happy with the guys we’ve selected – it’s a big, fast squad.
“We’ll go alright.
“Group 19 is an unknown quantity, however Group 4 is a different proposition.
“They had about 40 blokes training [in November].
“Isaac will be our captain – and I’m expecting him to lead from the front.”
With 10 new faces in the fold, Gardner admits it’s a great opportunity for the youngsters to stake a claim on the rep scene.
“We’ve also named four ‘babies’ this time – Max Greacen (Denman), Wade McKenzie (Muswellbrook), Brady Curry (Scone) and Jacob Button (Muswellbrook) – when we usually only pick a couple,” he said.
“So, it’s a terrific chance for them to show what they capable of at an elite level.
“Overall, Group 21 boasts a strong working pack, with classy backs with players such as Hamish Wolfgang (Aberdeen), Will Nieuwenhuise (Singleton) and Cameron French (Aberdeen).
“Those three, alone, have played a lot of senior footy.”
Gardner will put the boys through their paces at Muswellbrook’s Olympic Park again on Thursday and Friday, February 7 and 8.
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