By TONY WHITE
IT'S kick off time for the 2005 rugby league season with a new, expanded 13-team Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League competition.
And what better way than to bounce out of the starting blocks with a traditional local derby ? Grafton Ghosts versus the Lower Clarence Magpies at Maclean Showground tomorrow.
Apart from pride, prestige and vital competition points at stake, the two teams, sporting a host of new players, do battle for the Terry Randall Memorial Shield.
Randall, the Magpie stalwart, passed away on December 5, 2003, after a lifelong service as a committeeman and tireless worker for youth in the Lower Clarence.
"He gave his heart and soul to the club," Randall's wife Noeline Kapeen said.
"Terry always tried to encourage Aboriginal and non-Aboriginals into sport, but his love was rugby league.
"He used to love seeing the young kids come up through the grades. His face lit up. He felt part of their lives."
Kapeen will be at the game to present the trophy to the winners.
Emotions are certain to run high in the game both on and off the field.
Former Ghosts player and new Magpies captain-coach Jason Hebbard expects a whirlwind start to open proceedings.
"It's sure to be a hard, tough and fast encounter with plenty of spirit," Hebbard predicted. "We've trained that way and we're ready for it.
"Sometimes people want to try and even the score and prove a point to get on top."
Apart from Hebbard, hooker Chris Brophy and prop Mick Harris are also ex-Ghosties and are sure to be tested by their rivals, physically and verbally.
New Ghosts coach Matt McKee also expects a hard encounter.
"Yeah, it's sure to be tough," he said. "Hebbs (Hebbard) and Brophy have a past affiliation with us and I'm sure they will be out to prove a point.
"I expect Jason to be going like a bull at the gate and come out and try and stamp his authority.
"We (the team) have had a chat about what's likely to happen.
"Our aim will be to neutralise their forwards and let our backs pave the way."
There has been big changes in the line-ups from last season with the Ghosts sporting seven new players and the Magpies nine.
The Magpies were forced to alter their original line up after dashing centre Mitch West injured his ankle in a touch football game.
Prop Brett Smidt will warm the bench as a fresh reserve.
Hebbard, who predicts the Magpies are top three finals contenders, said his forwards needed "to win the battle up front.
"We've got to start as hard and as fast as we can for the first 20 minutes.
"We've got a very good pack and some top backs to finish it off."
McKee is looking to new halves combination Bob Davison and Don Dickson for direction on the park.
"Donny's a key man. He's the biggest kicker of a football I've ever seen," McKee said. "Bob guides the team around the park and will be instrumental in all we do."
The Ghosts have a young side with plenty of potential and some experienced players like in-form fullback Phil Warby and ever-reliable Chris Adamson, two players sure to be prominent throughout.
On paper the Magpies look a strong unit bristling with talented players. How they combine as a team will have a strong bearing on the game.
GRAFTON GHOSTS: Fullback, Phil Warby; wingers, John Carney, Warwick Brown; centres, Chris Adamson, Brad Johnson; five-eighth, Don Dickson; halfback, Bob Davison; props, Matt Michaels (c), Brett Wicks; hooker, Jason Vidler; second-rowers, Shaun Davison, Aaron Marscham; lock, Josh Ryder. Coach: Matt McKee.
LOWER CLARENCE: Fullback, Lee Everett; wingers, Jake Thornton, Luke Manny; centres, Darren Blackett, Dane Walker; five-eighth, Aaron Murray; halfback, Jason Wilkinson; props, Luke Matherson, Mick Harris; hooker, Chris Brophy; second-rowers, Jason Hebbard (c), Terry Power; lock, Tom Freebody.
Coach: Jason Hebbard. Bench: Brett Smidt.