Stars ready to rumble
FOUR Grafton junior rugby league players will mix it with the state's best this weekend, after gaining selection in the Northern Rivers representative squad to compete in the annual NSW Country Rugby League Championship.
The Grafton Ghosts' Ben McLennan, Dan Roberts, and Khan Williams, and South Grafton Rebels player Steve Gillett will travel to Mudgee to take on Western Division in round one of the knockout competition on Saturday.
Ten teams representing the state's regions will contest the Under-18s division of the tournament, and with Northern Rivers fielding a cohesive outfit, Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League secretary Doug Harrison said he expected the side to do well.
"The Northern Rivers Under-18s team has been playing and training in the off season with the elite squad for their age group, they've put in a lot of hard work and I'm expecting they will reap the rewards," he said.
"The last time Northern Rivers came up against Western Division was in the grand final of the 2001 competiton. We came out on top, and that's exactly what I predict will happen on the weekend.
"They have a very cohesive, close knit unit with a lot of talented players. There are individuals in the team that have the potential to play at a much higher level."
Harrison said the four Grafton players would bring a high level of strength to the side, with previously developed combinations giving them an advantage over players not used to their teams.
"The Clarence Valley boys are fortunate to have experience playing side-by-side, I think it will add a lot to the Northern Rivers squad. Ben will be playing centre, Kahn will be on the wing, Steve will be a second rower, and Dan has been selected as five-eighth, and I think they'll all work really well together," he said.
The Parramatta Eels have already claimed McLennan, placing the 18-year-old on a development scholarship, and according to Harrison other players in the Northern Rivers squad had the potential to pick up a similar deal.
"The Country Championships are the stepping stone to bigger things. There are going to be talent scouts from all over the place. If the boys want to get into the NRL then this is where it all begins," he said.
"The boys have the chance to gain selection in the Country team, there is a tour to Samoa this year which would be a wonderful playing experience.
If Northern Rivers make it through to the finals it's highly likely that we would see four or five of these boys selected in that team.
"All the Under-18s players are going into this competition with winning on their minds. It's going to be very competitive, and very, very exciting."
The Northern Rivers senior squad, including the Lower Clarence Magpies' Roy Bell playing on the wing, will also travel to Mudgee to play against Western Division.
After edging out a Gold Coast representative team 32-30 in a curtain raiser to the Titans versus Parramatta game at Carrara on Sunday, Harrison said the senior team was looking highly competitive.