By TONY WHITE
MAN mountain Xavier Sullivan has been given the honour of captaining the South Grafton Rebels when they take on Grafton Ghosts in the local rugby league derby at Frank McGuren Field tomorrow.
Rebels captain-coach Stevie Kirby has decided to hand the giant prop the on-field reins in the round seven Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League clash.
Sullivan was this year named Rebels club captain.
"He's really put in since the season started and he's a real good leader, a born leader," Kirby said.
"Xavier is one of the club's best assets.
"He's a real good talker on the field and letting him take over the captaincy will allow me to concentrate more on my own game.
"I know Xavier is really looking forward to the game and he's thinking there would be no better way to celebrate than the team winning."
It's an unusual move by Kirby, but underlines the camaraderie within the club.
The Rebels are humming along with five wins from six games.
On the other hand the Ghosts, beset with injury, are struggling with just one win against Lower Clarence in the opening round.
However, local derbies don't always run to the form guide.
Another tough encounter is expected by the traditional rivals.
The Rebels have reshuffled its backline with the return of halfback, Dallas Waters.
Half Andy Bell moves to five-eighth with playmaker Ray Mercy moving back to the centres to partner Mark Laurie.
Dion Donnelly comes into the side at lock for the first time and utility Paul Donovan, who has been in great form, reverting to fullback.
Winning creates confidence and the Rebels are bubbling with enthusiasm.
"There's a real good feeling at the club, enormous," Kirby said. "During warm ups at training the boys have a lot of jokes and they know they can say what they like. But when fitness and the ball work starts it's serious.
"We all talk to each other, we're mates. Everyone is getting on really well.
"Even if things are said on the field, it stays on the field.
"I let the boys have a say, say what they like at training and I'll listen. If they want something different I'm open to it.
"We're working as a team and I really think we can improve further.
"We're sticking to our basics but we're starting to implement our support game."
Ghosts coach, Matt McKee, who pulled on the boots last week against Cudgen, said Ghosts talented lock Josh Ryder is out of Sunday's game after suffering concussion against Cudgen.
But Warwick Brown (wing), John Carney (fullback), Josh Vidler (five-eighth) and Shaun Davison (lock) return to the side.
"Local derbies are always different games of football," McKee said. "They are tough, hard games.
"Looking at what's happened so far it will be tough for us to win but al least we're starting to get some players back.
"We've got to keep control of their linchpin Ray Mercy and stop Xavier. They're the Rebels game breakers."
McKee said despite several on-field drubbings the players are "holding up surprisingly well."
Representative lock Don Dickson was named as a fresh reserve. Dickson and Ray Mercy will play for the Northern Division team against Newcastle today.
SOUTH GRAFTON: Fullback, Paul Donovan; wings, Walter Donnelly, Dave Purcell; centres, Mark Laurie, Ray Mercy; five-eighth, Andy Bell; halfback, Dallas Waters; props, Xavier Sullivan (c), Brad Lloyd; hooker, Stevie Kirby; second-row; Colby Schrader, Scott Laurie; lock, Dion Donnelly. Coach: Stevie Kirby.
GRAFTON: Fullback, John Carney; wings, Chris Adamson, Warwick Brown; centres, Kyle Walters, Phil Warby; five-eighth, Jason Vidler; halfback, Trent Barber; props, Matt Michael (c), Jon Winters; hooker, Chad Cassidy; second-row, Mitch Cooper, Scott Kilduff; lock, Shaun Davison. Interchange: Don Dickson. Coach: Matt McKee.