Early favourites on show
By DAVE MORRISON
A BUMPER crowd is expected today when the Grafton Mighty River Redmen make their first home appearance for the season against the very much in form University Gold Rats.
To coincide with the opening of the home rugby season, the Redmen are hosting their annual sponsors day which always draws a big crowd.
It's early days yet after just one competition round, but already these two sides are being talked about as real premiership contenders on the strength of very impressive first up wins last weekend.
Grafton did some very good things in their defeat of reigning champions Ballina, who were at full strength on their home turf.
The Students however were equally threatening with a 53-0 white wash of new chums, the Tweed Baa Baas, in typically free running University fashion.
Word is that the Rats have strengthened an already impressive forward pack during the off season with a number of large, running forwards and they will pose real difficulties with their speed to the breakdown and their ability to steal possession.
They will sorely test a slightly weakened Grafton pack, missing veteran No.8 Rob Brown and lock Mark Robinson.
Redmen coach Gary Powell is not too concerned, however as his replacements are certainly well credentialed.
Former Country prop, Dave Hales comes into the side allowing Powell to move back to the backrow, Jono Speechley moves to Robinson's lock position with the dynamic Jon Chevalley moving in to the flanker position from the centres.
Chevalley may well prove to be a revelation on the side of the scrum and will provide a competitive spark at the tackle contest needed against University.
Ray Mercy comes into Chevalley's centre spot in the starting lineup, and again, Grafton lose nothing here.