MOVING ON: South Grafton premiership players Ant Cowan and Mal Webster will team up at Orara Valley in 2016.
MOVING ON: South Grafton premiership players Ant Cowan and Mal Webster will team up at Orara Valley in 2016. Adam Hourigan

Star halfback abandons Rebels to side with Orara Valley

RUGBY LEAGUE: The South Grafton Rebels have been dealt a knockout blow only weeks out from the start of the Group 2 season with premiership-winning halfback Ant Cowan handing in his resignation.

>> RELATED: Return of halfback Ant Cowan a boost for Group 2 premiers South Grafton Rebels in 2016

Cowan will be rejoining South Grafton halves partner Mal Webster Jnr and Steven 'Rocko' Walker at the Orara Valley Axemen as they press for a top-four finish under new captain-coach Billie Lockwood.

Cowan's departure adds to a long list of stars from last year's premiership side, including Chris Carr, Roy Bell, Oral Monaghan, Webster and Walker, who have moved on from the South Grafton side.

Cowan said while it was a shame to be departing the Rebels this season, it was a decision he had to make.

"It had become really hard for me to get to training each week for the Rebels and I have known Willie for a good 10 years now," he said.

"I used to watch him play a lot of footy at the Port Macquarie Sharks and as a halfback I really looked up to him as a player.

"When I was making the move from under 18s to first grade at Macleay Valley he gave me an opportunity and it has just gone from there.

"When I heard Mal Webster had ended up signing there and Rocko and a couple of the Kempsey boys we played with at the Mustangs, I just decided to jump on the bandwagon with them."

Cowan said he wrote to the management of the Rebels club to notify them of his decision and that there were no 'hard feelings' harboured between himself and the South Grafton club.

"I have to do what is best for myself and my family and that is moving to the Axemen," he said.

"It is a shame I have had to leave the Rebels on those terms and that I was not able to go back there and back up our effort last year.

"The Rebs have got some really good juniors coming through the ranks and I reckon they can go to another level this season.

"I am excited to get out onto the field and have a run against the blokes. It will be good to see how they compete against me and Mal."

The Rebels will still have a contingent of local talent from last year's premiership side including Grant Stevens, Rhys Walters and Nick McGrady, who will make the move into a halves role.

The side played out a 28-all draw against Northern United in a trial match on Saturday with new recruit, former Ghost Kieren Stewart, impressing.

"Kieren looked great during the trial," vice-president John Matthews said. "He played a bit in the halves and at fullback which shows versatility."



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