RUGBY LEAGUE: Lower Clarence Magpies have a vision for a successful future at the club, and it all starts with player commitment.
Former NRL and Super League player Evan Cochrane has taken over at the helm of the Magpies' first grade side, and he is bringing a wealth of knowledge and respect to the organisation.
After moving to the region to work on the roads and be closer to his son, Cochrane, who was a part of the Newcastle Knights ARL winning squad in 1997, jumped at the opportunity to resurrect the Magpies' winning ways.
But it is a task the 45-year-old coach knows he cannot achieve on his own.
"The players I need at the club are people who are going to turn up and make sure this club has a future,” Cochrane said. "We have been in pre-season for about a month now, and the numbers and attitude we have been getting has really been positive so far.
"I have been considering a move to the Clarence for a long time now but, with work coming up on the roads, it felt like the right time. I have known Jack McIntyre (Maclean Hotel) from his days in Newcastle and he asked me to come on board and help the club climb back to the top of the NRRRL competition.”
A bush-boy at heart, Cochrane was drafted to the big leagues in 1990 when he started with Western Suburbs before also having stints at Balmain Tigers, South Sydney and London Broncos in the UK Super League.
Cochrane returned to Australia to play off the bench for the Knights in 21 matches across 1997 and 1998 before retiring and leaving the game for good.
But he said the thought of getting back into rugby league was always nagging at the back of his mind.
"My love for the game has never stopped, even after 12 years out of it,” he said. "A few people always told me I should go into coaching, but it was never something I had considered until now.
"Coming back to league, it all does come back to you pretty quickly. The game has obviously changed a lot since I was playing, but the fundamentals are all the same and that helps.”
Cochrane has brought a no-nonsense style of coaching to the Magpies as he aims to rebuild the club that won two games from 17 in NRRRL last season.
And with some pre-season training sessions hosting more than 30 players already, the signs loom positive in the Lower region.
"I make no bones about it, this club is perilously close to not being around. It is struggling,” he said. "I am walking into a bit of a war zone.
"But I don't want to see this club fold. There is a great history here and already I can tell the town loves its footy club.
"To start, you have got to get the right blokes there and have a line drawn in the sand. It is definitely a cultural change needed.”
Cochrane said with the amount of under-18s talent turning up already, and a willing Alex McMillan jumping on board to coach the juniors in 2018, the future does appear positive.
"We have sort of been getting around the 20-30 mark to training and a lot of those have been the young guys,” he said. "There has been no bullshit, they have just jumped in and started doing the work.
"We need blokes who are willing to buy in to the new culture at the Magpies.”
The club had its last pre-season training run on Thursday and will break over Christmas, before getting back into work in the new year. The NRRRL season kicks off in April, and Lower Clarence hopes to field four sides including their burgeoning Ladies League Tag ranks.