Hammond knows the winning way
NORTHERN United's Willie Hammond remains the only player in the Northern Thunderbolts team that has won a NSW Country Rugby League Divisional Championships and he is hoping to share some of that experience when the Thunderbolts start their campaign today in Lismore.
Hammond played off the bench in the Northern Rivers side that won the 2001 final against ACT-Monaro but he will start as hooker in the Thunderbolts' first-up match with the Oxley Pioneers at Oakes Oval at 1.30pm.
The Thunderbolts squad includes five Clarence Valley players - Dan Roberts, Ryan Farrell, Aaron Hartmann, Ben McLennan and Nat Sewell.
The Northern Rivers side of 2001 was only the third local divisional side to win the title in 48 years but Hammond says there is hope for this year's team.
“That team that won in 2001 was a bit different from this year's team in that it had a real difference in ages,” Hammond said.
“There was a real balance and a few good leaders in the 2001 team whereas this team is pretty young.”
The big difference between the Northern Rivers side of 2001 and today's is the inability to draw on players from the Gold Coast-Group 18 competition.
Despite the loss of the Gold Coast players, Hammond says this year's backline may actually be stronger than the 2001 team.
“I think every coach will tell you that you need forwards doing the job but we have some real good players in the backs, like Michael Moran and Roy Bell who have both played for South Sydney,” he said.
“Then you've got Aaron Hartmann, who is very strong, and the pace of Clarence Kelly (United) and Clint Horne (Kyogle). Those fellas out there go real well.”
Hammond is a true Northern Thunderbolts representative, having played not only in the Northern Rivers competition but also the Group 19 premiership.
The hooker started his football with the Moree Boomerangs before heading to Ballina. He has also played with Lismore Workers, Byron Bay, Lower Clarence and now new club Northern United.