By TONY WHITE
DIMINUTIVE halfback Trent Barber has vowed to make the most of a golden opportunity after being named in the starting line-up for Grafton Ghosts against Casino in Northern Rivers rugby league at Frank McGuren Park tomorrow.
While Barber, last season's regular halfback been utilised as reserve in first grade, the 76kg, 165cm flyweight, has been overlooked to date, with coach Matt McKee preferring Bob Davison in the run on side.
"I'll be doing my best to get my spot back and cement a position in first grade," the Coles Liquorland shop assistant said.
"I was a bit 'how's your father' after being left out early but I wasn't as fit as normal and I've just tried to do my best in second grade sitting in the wings and hoping for a call up," he said. "There's been a lot of changes in the side but I'm looking forward to the game."
With Davison awaiting approval to join the NSW Police Force, Barber's chances of a permanent spot in the top side, especially if he plays well tomorrow, are likely to increase considerably. Barber, currently studying for a Bachelor of Arts primary school teacher's degree, has starred in the Ghosts second-grade outfit and played well in every game coming off the bench in firsts.
He's put on around seven kilos this year and despite his small stature, is a whole-hearted player and brave in defence.
"I try and get them (bigger men) low. With my size there's not much point going high and getting bumped off," he reasoned. "They can't run without legs."
Barber is one of numerous changes to the Ghosts line-up forced through injury and player commitments. Centre Brad Johnson is out for up to six weeks with ankle ligament damage.
Classy five-eighth/lock Don Dickson moves to centre alongside Under-18 utility Kyle Walters, who played hooker in last week's 52-6 thumping by Marist Brothers.
Dickson is still in doubt after injuring an ankle at representative training on Wednesday.
Speedy forward Brett Wicks (prop last week) and Jason Cheeney, in his first season of league after switching from soccer, are the new wingers.
"Jason is our Eric Grothe," McKee said. "Kyle played in the centres during the trials. He has enough speed to handle it and his enthusiasm gets him places.
"Having Kyle at centre will allow hooker-halfback Jason Vidler (last week's half) to add some sting and grunt to the front-row."
Second-rower Shaun Davison is suffering from a sternum injury but has declared his availability.
Backs Phil Warby, John Carney and Warwick Brown are missing with commitments at the Australian Oztag titles on the Gold Coast.
AND in a further blow to the Ghosts depth, following a complaint by Marist Brothers, second grader Scott Pereira has been cited to appear before the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League judiciary next Wednesday on a high tackle charge.
"It's been a disruptive week but we trained well on Thursday," McKee said.
"The players realise the importance of this game. If we can't beat these type of teams (outside top six) at home, then we're no show this season.
"If we can beat Casino and Kyogle next week then we'll be okay with three wins from five games."
Casino, coached by former Queensland State of Origin player, Cavill Heugh, have their own share of problems.
Flogged 90-16 by Tweed Heads Seagulls last week, the Cougars are winless this season.
Matt Roberts is out injured but centre Tim Stark is back from injury and Dene Petty comes into the run-on side at prop.
The club's two English imports, Jason Blakey and Andy Barker, should add some starch to the forwards and workaholic hooker, Chad Pearce also returns to the side.
The game begins at 3pm.
GRAFTON GHOSTS: Fullback, Chris Adamson; wingers, Brett Wicks, Jason Cheeney; centres, Don Dickson, Kyle Walters; fiveeighth, Bob Davison; halfback, Trent Barber; props, Matt Michael (c), Mitch Cooper; hooker, Jason Vidler; second-row, Arron Marscham, Shaun Davison; lock, Josh Ryder. Coach: Matt McKee.
CASINO: Fullback, Cameron George; wingers, Ben Birney, Todd Walker; centres, Clint Vidler, Tim Stark; five-eighth, Gary Roberts; halfback, Wes Torrens; props, Dene Petty, Chris McGrath (c); hooker, Jason Blakey; second-rowers, Brad Birney, Andy Barker; lock, Kirk Hancock. Interchange: Chad Pearce.
NRRRL matches this weekend:
Tweed Coast Raiders v Byron Bay (Les Berger Field, Cabarita).
Mullumbimby v South Tweed Heads (Les Donnelly Field, Mullumbimby).
Lower Clarence v Marist Brothers (Maclean Showground).
Cudgen v Tweed Seagulls (Ned Byrne Field, Cudgen).
Kyogle v Murwillumbah (New Park, Kyogle).
Grafton Ghosts v Casino (Frank McGuren Park, Grafton).
Ballina v South Grafton (Kingsford Smith Park, Ballina).