DEPT. OF YOUTH
By TONY WHITE
IT will be 'kids day' out in more ways than one when Lower Clarence Magpies take on the Casino Tigers in the final round of the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League competition at Maclean Showground tomorrow.
The Lower Clarence Rugby League Football Club have deemed the fixture, 'kids day', following a week-long promotion involving Magpies' first grade captain-coach Jason Hebbard visiting local schools.
But much of the club's focus and game-day attention will centre around another group of 'kids', the Magpies Under-18 outfit.
The Magpie juniors are currently fifth on the ladder with 28 points, five points clear of sixth placed Marist Brothers, and the only Clarence Valley rugby league team in the finals series.
Hebbard said the club's youngsters, coached by Ricky Binge, have done a great job this season.
And the club's head coach also suggested at least five Under-18 players were likely to be elevated to first grade next year.
"They are a side that can do anything on their day," Hebbard said.
"They have a lot of ability. Captain Daniel Battersby, Grant Brown, Ryan Binge, Aaron Taylor and Guy Barlow will all be considered for first grade next year.
"I'm sure they are up to it."
Lock/five-eighth Battersby, fullback Taylor, utility back Brown, who has played plenty of first grade this season and second-rowers, Binge and Barlow, have starred for the Under-18s.
"It's been a great promotion for the club this week," Hebbard said. "Going into all the schools was really good.
"We're hoping a lot of the school kids will come out and support all three grades."
More than 1500 coupons were handed out during Hebbard's visit to 11 Lower Clarence schools which entitles students to a free drink and sticker at the match.
"It was awesome meeting so many of the kids and visiting all the schools this week. The reception from each of the schools, their teachers and students was really something special," Hebbard said.
"We asked the students to come along with their faces painted black and white so that they can enter into the 'B & W Face Painting Competition' with judges awarding 10 prizes.
"We were also promoting this weekends NRL match between the Dragons and the Eels while pointing out to everyone that both coaches came from the Lower Clarence."
In first grade fullback Aaron Murray returns after a torn quad muscle but centre Darren Blackett, one of the Magpies best players this season, will miss the match with a wrist injury.
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"Casino are on the same points as us and we're hopeful of going out on a winning note," Hebbard said.
After a slow start Casino, under coach Cavill Heugh, have improved and can look forward to next season with added expectations.
The emergence of youngsters such as fullback Ben Birney, winger Geoff Butta, centre Clint Vidler, five-eighth Gary Roberts and regular halfback Matt Roberts has been a huge reason why the Cougars turned around their last placing in 2004.
The continuing brilliance of props Chris McGrath and Dene Petty and English imports Jason Blakey and Andy Barker has also had plenty to do with Casino's resurgence.
LOWER CLARENCE: Fullback, Aaron Murray; wingers, Ben McDonald, Luke Many; centres, Darrin Essex; five-eighth, Gavin Galvin; halfback, Jason Wilkinson; props, Terry Power, Luke Mapperson; hooker, Chris Brophy; second-rowers, Mick Harris, Jason Hebbard (c); lock, Tom Freebody. Reserve: Brett Smidt. Coach: Jason Hebbard.
CASINO: Fullback, Ben Birney; wingers, Matt Johnson, Geoff Butta; centres, Clinton Vidler, Todd Walker; five-eighth, Gary Roberts; halfback, Brad Birney; props, Chris McGrath (c), Dene Petty; hooker, Jason Blakey; second-rowers, Chad Pearce, Andy Barker; lock, Chris Chelman. Coach: Cavill Heugh.
nWHILE the South Grafton Rebels have a bye this weekend, man mountain Xavier Sullivan will be hoping his major rivals in the inaugural 100.9 ZZZ FM Gary Fox The Good Guys 2005 NRRRL player of the year competition, fail to draw points.
Sullivan, expected to take over as Rebels coach next season, is understood to be among the leading contenders for the prestigious award. Lower Clarence players Luke Mapperson and Jason Wilkinson are also believed to have polled well.
The player of the year will be announced at the NRRRL presentation night on September 9 at Lismore Workers Club.