2006: Bring it on


NOW that the 2005 Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League season has passed, we can look forward to the prospect of an even bigger 2006.

The good thing about next year is that teams will know where they have to improve and they know what is expected of them.

This season was a bit hit and miss for some sides, but with a good off-season behind them improvements are in store.

The loss of the Tweed Seagulls to Brisbane's Mixwell Cup competition will mean that there will be no defending premiers in first and reserve grade, so the incentive is there for all clubs to hit the ground running when the first whistles are blown next year.

I've polished off the crystal ball again and here are some thoughts on 2006:

Murwillumbah ? They say you've got to lose a grand final to win one. Personally, I think that's rubbish, but they will be one of the teams to beat next year.

Marist Brothers ? The Brethren had a great season and they will only be better in 2006 with younger players ready for the big games.

Cudgen ? I reckon they will lose a few experienced players, but they had good depth and will challenge next year.

Ballina ? A lot of depth in the club with good youngsters coming through.

Mullumbimby ? Need good start to season; a slow start this year cost them, but they will be up there.

South Grafton ? Need to get consistent; can't afford to lose games against the lower sides as they tend to do.

Casino ? Hopefully, they will build on this year and will challenge for the top six.

South Tweed ? Struggled to keep winning after a good start; will have to strengthen team to compete with the top sides.

Lower Clarence ? On paper, they should have made the finals; can't win big games away from home.

Kyogle ? Should look at what their Under-18 (grand final winners) side did and realise that anything is possible; good pack, but need some smart backs to get them over the line. I don't know what they intend doing coaching wise, but bringing Wayne Lollback up from Under-18 to first grade wouldn't be a bad move (pretty impressive coach).

Grafton ? They paid lots of money for the past two premierships they have won; need to open the purse strings or it will be another long year.

Byron Bay ? There is a ray of light at the end of their tunnel, with the success of their Under 18 side; hopefully they can attract players and get back to where they were a few years back.

Tweed Coast Raiders ? Only had Reserve Grade and Under 18 sides this year and while it's great to see them getting up and running let's hope that a first grade side is not too far off.

Masters mayhem

THANKS to Al Petty for reuniting all the old Marist Brothers boys for last weekend's Masters Games, in which we were lucky enough to play 10 games of Oztag in 30-degree heat ... what a blast.

Most of the blokes, in their day, were great athletes, who showed immense amounts of never-say-die courage. But the weekend tested every one of us.

I am still sore in places I didn't know had muscles.

Some things never change, as we managed to win through to the grand final and defeat Ballina.

The weekend was played in a great spirit, very competitive, but a lot of laughs. However, a couple of blokes took it pretty seriously and it makes you wonder how you can actually play and referee at the same time (I thought you mellowed with age).

Our side only lost one game and in that loss we were given an Oztag lesson by their star player Denis Dardengo. Despite coming in for a lot of attention early, 'Doggy' produced the best performance of any player at the weekend to tear us apart, scoring two tries.

A special mention to the guys from the Beach Hotel side; all of these guys are on the wrong side of 40 but are as fit as fiddles and play the game as good as anyone.

I hope when I get to their vintage I'm half as agile.

Picking winners

I HAD a young kid come in to work with his dad on Monday and I asked the youngster who he was going for in the grand final, Tigers or Cowboys.

He wasn't sure, so I told him when I was young I used to pick by judging the mascots (eg, in 1978 when the Sharks played the Sea Eagles, I went for the Sharks because the Shark would kill the Sea Eagle).

Upon telling him this, I said he should go for the Tigers, because the Tiger would beat the Cowboy.

I almost had him won over on the theory, when he piped up and told me that the Cowboy had a gun and shot the Tiger. Theory shot down, work it out for yourself, kid.

Webb on outer

I DON'T like to rub it in, but how do you reckon Carl Webb will be feeling this week?

One moment of insanity has cost him the chance to play in a grand final, something he may never get another crack at.

If only he'd taken a deep breath and counted to three instead of belting that bloke and automatically qualifying as Goose of the Week in the lead-up to the NRL decider.

Titans strike

IT was great to pick up Saturday's Northern Star and read that the Gold Coast Titans had signed three of the most promising 18-year-olds in NSW, all of whom are local boys.

Shannon Walker, James Rix and Harry Witt were all team-mates in the Northern Rivers Under-18 Country Championship-winning side and will be reunited next year on the Gold Coast.

This trio is the tip of the iceberg. I'm sure the Gold Coast talent scouts will be spending plenty of time down in this area in the next 18 months.

Soaring Swans

IT would be remiss of me not to mention the Sydney Swans' great win over the West Coast Eagles in last Saturday's grand final.

I am first to admit that I don't understand the finer points of the game, but I do admire the way the players throw their bodies into the fray. Leo Barry's Mark of the Century was simply great, particularly if you're a Swans fan.

Not again ...

LAST week I did say that the two top NRL sides ? Parramatta and St George Illawarra? had a habit of choking this time of year.

I believe St George were just beaten by a side that did everything better. Wests Tigers outplayed the Dragons in every aspect of the game.

While everyone is saying the Dragons played badly and, they did, they weren't allowed to play well by a red-hot Tigers side.

St George had their chance to get back into the game but fundamental errors cost them.

With a near-State of Origin side, questions near to be asked as to why the Dragons just can't take that last step and win a premiership. Their chances appear to be reduced in the future, because this side will not be together forever.

Parramatta, on the other hand, were terrible, and that's being nice to them.

They choked, they looked like a bunch of blokes picked up by the bus on the way to the game who had never met each other.

I think the occasion got to Tim Smith; he was making the easy look difficult and had little support from a badly beaten forward pack.

The moment I knew the Eels were gone was when Smith put that chip across field on his own tryline. He had run out of good ideas and was relying on the ridiculous ... game over.

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