Rebels locked and loaded for a third straight title
RUGBY LEAGUE: South Grafton Rebels have put the rest of Group 2 clubs on notice with a 42-14 demolition of the Navy Tridents. But for coach Ron Gordon it was more about sending a message to themselves.
"It is a point we are proving to ourselves, while we have lost players we are focused on reclaiming the crown," he said.
"Again, we have got new combinations, new blood in the squad. We played without Xavier Sullivan and without Stumpy (captain Grant Stevens).
"Everyone is worried about having big names on paper. But our boys proved you don't need big names, it comes down to enthusiasm and heart. Whether you want to win or lose."
The Rebels travelled to Bellingen for the Sgt Matthew Locke MG Charity Day to offer their support to the once struggling Bellingen Dorrigo-Magpies. It proved a masterstroke for the reigning champions, getting a chance to see all their different combinations in action for the final time before the season kick off.
Gordon said he was impressed with the efforts of club leader Hugh Stanley, who returned to the side after missing the Coffs Coast 9s the previous week.
While lining up in his customary five-eighth role, Stanley shifted to the second row at different stages, showing the full range of his defensive work as well as nabbing two tries on the fringe.
Stanley was well supported by barnstorming front rower Austin Cooper who has not stopped impressing at pre-season training runs, as well as younger brother and dual-representative, Lewis Cooper.
"Young Aussie Cooper he played a tonne of minutes, which really impressed me," Gordon said. "I reckon he has dropped around 15 kilos this off-season and has been training the house down.
"He seems to have really turned a corner this year and we're going to be the ones who benefit from it most. He is definitely pushing for a first grade spot this season.
"But best on ground had to go to Hughie. He played a bit of back row as we swapped and shuffled boys but never looked out of place."
The match also gave the Rebels a first glimpse of incoming halfback Kayan Davis, who has inked a contract with the South Grafton side after training all summer with the Ipswich Jets Intrust Super Cup side.
Davis is yet to join the side for a training session but according to Gordon he is keen to move down to the Clarence to build his combinations before the season begins.
Davis was the final piece to Gordon's premiership puzzle and now the side will focus on building fitness heading into round one.
"We are built to be (in the finals). That is my roster done, I don't need to look anywhere else," he said.
"I feel as though we have done the hard yards in the toughest part of pre-season ... It is now just about fine tuning the boys for the season. We are definitely in front of where we were this time last year."
Will South Grafton Rebels win a third straight Group 2 title in 2017?
This poll ended on 15 August 2017.
Yes - Nothing can stop the Rebels juggernaut at the moment. Let the good times roll.
Maybe - A legacy has started, but the new committee must not drop the ball.
I don't think so - Taunton and Matthews masterminded two premierships. A third, without them, would be a stretch.
No - Every dog has his day. The Rebels are done.
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
The action was fast and furious at Bellingen Park during the annual event, which drew the best crowd in its almost decade long history along with a few famous faces from the Brad Fitler Hogs4Homeless tour.
In the curtain raiser the valiant Magpies under-18s outfit, which debuted up to six new faces, suffered a narrow two-point loss to Uralla.
It began to look like a Uralla kind of day as their Ladies League team also managed a competitive victory over the Magpies Ladies, until Woolgoolga Seahorse saw a swift close to the run holding on to give Uralla First Grade the club's only loss.
With the Magpies Under 18's debuting up to six players with little or no rugby league experience there was a thought that they would struggle to compete against more experienced teams. This was shown to be false with a two point loss to Macksville to begin the day.
The Air Force Jets proved a slight class above the Macksville Sea Eagles in a physical encounter before the Army Thunder continued their strong run in recent years to reclaim the main event victory.
It was a heroic encounter between the two friendly sides, with Bellingen-Dorrigo suggesting they may be a force in Group 2 this season, narrowly succumbing 30-28 to the Thunder.