GROUP 2: Carter impressed by quality of talent pool
GROUP 2: Steve Carter admitted surprise at the quality of footballers playing Group 2 Rugby League and insists he has assembled a strong side for the April 30 clash with Group 3.
A former Jersey Flegg coach at North Sydney, Carter has been given a license to do things his way and met with the 23-man squad for the first time at Coffs Harbour on Wednesday night, which he will cut down to 18 on Monday.
"We named a larger squad because in past years there's been injuries and suspensions in the last week of club games which means you need to make late changes and it gets a bit disorganised," Carter said.
"Our plan is to keep that squad til Monday and then cut it to 18. It's going to be a strong side no matter what. There will be some good players who will miss out."
Some big names have already been left out of the initial squad, including Orara Valley halves Ant Cowan and Mal Webster, while the late withdrawal of Hughie Stanley means South Grafton Rebels have no representation in the side.
Carter has attended numerous matches in a bid to come up with a winning selection of players.
"Two or three from South Grafton were approached but are not available, including Stanley who had already booked flights to visit his mother in Rockhampton. He was disappointed and did express how keen he was.
"I watched the Grafton and Orara game last Saturday and Grafton were totally dominant. Some of Orara's players such as Ant Cowan and Mal Webster have featured in the rep team in previous years. Unfortunately they weren't given much of an opportunity but I could only go on what I saw."
"I wanted to make a conscious effort to give some new people the opportunity," Carter said.
"Results from the last four or five years haven't been great. I explained to the group that we have to look outside what we've been working with.
"Guys like Jake Barnett, he was really impressive. I like his rugged no-nonsense ball running at second row.
"I have been a bit surprised overall. The standard of footy here is better than I anticipated."
Carter, who currently lives on the Coffs Coast, originates from Wyong, where his other son Blake currently plays. Both Paul and Blake were Lower Clarence juniors when the family lived in Yamba a few years ago.
The 45-year-old has extensive coaching experience, including Under-20s in England and club and representative stints on the Central Coast.
Living locally, he was approached by Group 2 president Warren Gilkinson last year about the coaching position.
"I really have missed having involvement in rugby league," Carter said.
"But between my work and watching my sons play every month or so it gets a bit tricky.
"This was an opportunity to get back involved. Given the time frame for the job it worked out alright."
Should Group 2 defeat Group 3 at Taree next Saturday his tenure will last a little longer. Reward for the winning coach is the mentor position for the North Coast representative side to take on Northern Rivers at Coffs Harbour on May 23.
"Given the time frame for our preparation we're very limited in what we can do. So it's just a matter of getting the boys together and thinking the same way of how we approach the game.
"You can't get complicated with plays and that sort of stuff. It's just about getting everyone on the same page."
The manager of the Group 2 side is Scott Mieni, while Gilkinson has also been heavily involved as a selector.
He said the fact that there were some notable omissions from the squad reflected the strength across the group.
"We have a tremendous set of forwards. A big, strong pack with a lot of experience," Gilkinson said.
"There's a lot of depth in certain positions. This year we've had an influx of wingers. We've got about seven talented wingers and we could've picked any of those guys.
"For example Billy Griffiths is a Pommy bloke who has been in great form for the Comets but has missed out."
Gilkinson said the No.7 spot was one of the most difficult decisions with at least five players who were in initial contention.
Selectors went for Sawtell's Lachlan Miller and Coffs Harbour's Nathan Curry as the two halfbacks in the squad. Gilkinson also indicated Miller is likely to be the number one choice ahead of his more experienced fellow squad member.
"There's about five halfbacks we could've picked this year," he said. "We had a good look at Orara on Saturday and were hoping the likes of Cowan and Webster would perform, but they didn't.
"So when you've got guys making breaks and tackling week-in week-out, you have to pick them.
"The Ghosts (Jayden Connors) and Rebels (Theeran Pearson) also have quality halves, but when it came down to the crunch and the style of play Steve (Carter) wants, he feels Lachie (Miller) will suit his style. Lachie is a dynamic, brilliant footballer."
The one position Gilkinson felt there was a shortage was at five-eighth. That's where Comets recruit and former Toowoomba Clydesdale Cory McGrady comes in.
"He's a specialist five-eighth. We didn't want a natural halfback to play five-eighth."
Stanley has played five-eighth for Rebels so far this season, but has spent most of his career in the centres. While selectors most likely picked him in the initial squad as a centre, his late withdrawal means his ability to cover multiple positions could be sorely missed.
Meanwhile, Gilkinson was looking forward to welcoming back fullback Lollback following a breakout season with Wynnum Manly Redlands City in the Brisbane Rugby League competition in 2015.
Lollback has been named despite limited exposure for the Ghosts this season due to a niggling groin injury.
"He's a sensational player who's played up at a higher level," Gilkinson said.
"He was in the group side before he left to play Q-Cup last year where he showed he can handle it and he'll be a bonus to us."
GROUP TWO GLADIATORS 24-MAN SQUAD
Miles Fairbank, Cory McGrady, Michael Spence, Shayde Perham, Matt Cheeseman, Nathan Curry, Nayceon Simon (Coffs Harbour); Ryan Binge, Mitch Gorman, Dylan Collett, Ben McLennan, Mitch Lollback, Jake Barnett (Grafton); Arron Woods, Daine Laurie, Sam Miles (Macksville); Lachlan Miller, Tyron Stevenson (Sawtell); Zac Johnson, Matt Fields (Nambucca Heads); Michael Curnow, Brad Collinson (Woolgoolga); Hugh Stanley (South Grafton); Luke Beaumont (Bellingen).