Honours beckon

NORTHERN Thunderbolts coach Jamie McCormack expects three of his players to push for NSW Country selection after the Thunderbolts surged into the semi-finals of the NSW Country Divisional Rugby League Titles after two emphatic victories at Lismore's Oakes Oval at the weekend.

The Thunderbolts thumped the Oxley Pioneers 56-4 on Saturday and backed that up with a 35-24 victory over the Central Hunter Power yesterday to remain undefeated with a host of players producing eye-catching performances.

However, McCormack nominated Northern United winger Clarence Kelly, Kyogle fullback Clint Horne and Guyra second-rower Luke Hutton as the three most likely of his players to push for selection in the Country side.

“Obviously we don't know how the southern sides are performing at the moment but Clarence Kelly scored a number of tries and ran and tackled strongly,” he said.

“Clint Horne from Kyogle is an exceptional young footballer and he kept popping up in the right places and Luke Hutton will definitely be a chance considering he is a former Country player and that can help.”

Hutton, who is returning from a 12- month suspension, was the pick of an undersized Thunderbolts pack that punched well above its weight and McCormack lauded his two frontrowers Nat Sewell (Ghosts) and Jeff Richardson (Guyra) for holding their own in the middle of the ruck.

However, it was on the fringes where backrowers Hutton and Dan Roberts (Ghosts) and centres Aaron Hartmann (Ghosts) and John Freeman (Ballina) ran rampant and with the blinding speed of Kelly, Horne and Roy Bell capitalising on any breaks the Thunderbolts proved hard to stop.

In Saturday's match, the home side led 16-0 at half-time before running riot in the second-half as Oxley ran out of steam.

The Pioneers were also missing star five-eighth Milton Thaiday who failed to show and it appears certain he will be given a suspension from club football with Halliday's Point.

Freeman, Horne and hooker Willie Hammond each scored two tries in the emphatic Thunderbolts victory, with McCormack praising the work of Hammond from dummy-half.

In Sunday's match, the Thunderbolts were given a scare as the combined Central Coast and Group 21 team led 14-12 at the break.

However, the smaller Northern forward pack ramped up their efforts in the second stanza and finished full of running with Kelly and Horne scoring impressive tries.

There was even time for Hammond to kick a cheeky field-goal to soak up time.

The Newcastle Rebels also won two-from-two and will join the Thunderbolts in the semi-finals but it was hard to judge which side would have the ascendancy should they meet in the semi-finals.

McCormack believes the Rebels are vulnerable and he is preparing for the semi-finals in two weeks with confidence.

Semi-final opponents will be decided this weekend when the southern NSW teams play-off at Wagga Wagga.

The venue for the semi-finals will be decided after next weekend with the final on May 30.



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