Clash of the Clarence Heads at Yamba Oval
THE CLASH of the Clarence Heads local derby will kick off in a competitive arena for the first time in several years at 2pm at Yamba Oval today.
The return of Iluka Cossacks to Far North Coast Rugby Union coincides with Yamba Buccaneers switching from Reserve Grade to the President's Cup competition.
While the clubs have traditionally clashed in pre-season trials, the stage is set for a cracking season opener with both sides buoyed by a positive preseason.
"We'll definitely have a beer afterwards, but there'll be no love lost while we're on the field," Buccaneers captain-coach Lee Everett said.
"By the sounds of it Iluka will be very competitive. But I'm more worried about our boys. We've had some really good training sessions and a fair bit of contact work.
"We're looking really solid. We actually have too many players and it will be a case of picking the right team on the day."
Cossacks captain Kris Thomsen is similarly confident that putting a solid team on the paddock will not be an issue in 2016.
"Our numbers are outstanding," Thomsen said. "It's probably been the most productive start to a season in Iluka's history.
"We had 24 guys show up for the trial against Lismore. We had 21 at training on Tuesday, another four or five away and still getting interest from players who are keen to come and have a run."
The respective leaders could face off in opposite No.10 jerseys in their own clash of the heads, with Thomsen and Everett both natural fly halves.
Everett is hoping to be fit from injuries sustained in his side's trial against Glen Innes, in which Yamba won back the annual trophy contested between the two teams.
Since Iluka pulled out of the competition the makeup of Yamba's side has included several Cossacks faithful, who have now returned to the northern banks of the Clarence River.
"They've all gone back now, and taken a bit of knowledge with them," Everett conceded.
Thomsen is one of several Cossacks faithful returning to help drive the club's rejuvenation after playing for Buccaneers for the past couple of seasons.
"There's a buzz in the town now they've got a team up and running again. They're excited and looking forward supporting us through the year."
Yamba president Bob Thompson is anticipating a fantastic atmosphere at Yamba Oval and is weary of the newlook Cossacks.
"About half a dozen of last year's team have gone back to Iluka," Thompson said. "It will be a very interesting competition. It's always been a keenly contested local derby but Iluka has never beaten us.
"Kris Thomsen originally started playing at Iluka and has gone back for his final year. "Even though it's his final year he's still one of the best five-eighths on the competition.
"We've got a couple of recruits of our own who have helped out. Tom Mulligan is a big, blockbusting second rower from the New England and Eric Chartier is a Canadian who turned up the other day and looks to be a very handy centre.
"We also have the likes of Liam O'Neill stepping up from under-17s which shows the values of having good juniors around."