Byron Bay?s Shaun Packham, right, in action against Italo Stars last season.
Byron Bay?s Shaun Packham, right, in action against Italo Stars last season.

Bluedogs are Rams? first test

By Mark Robinson DEFENDING Far North Coast soccer premiers Byron Bay will look to kick off the defence of their twin titles with a home win over local rivals Bangalow today, but the new kids on the block are primed for an opening round upset.

The teams will meet at 5pm in the first round of the Football FNC Premier League season.

Byron Bay has not lost on home soil for more than two years, but could manage only a 1-0 win over the newly promoted Bluedogs when the two met in the pre-season Anzac Cup three weeks ago.

Adding fuel to the fire, Bangalow's central midfield pairing of Joel Rudgley and Glen Sheldrick have both played for the Rams and are sure to lift against their former team-mates.

Their ability to deliver quality possession to nippy strikers Sebastian Bell and Jai Campball will be crucial to the Bluedogs' hopes.

Incoming coach Damon Bell is confident of doing well.

"Byron might be the champions but after playing them in the Anzac Cup we won't be over-awed and they're certainly not unbeatable," Bell said.

While Bell has the luxury of his young, fit squad being at full strength, Byron Bay will be without inspirational midfielder Bruce Morhaus, speedy attacker Jonathan Pierce and solid defender Joel Bradford.

But the Rams' depth is enormous this season, with coach Peter Ware able to bring in three quality players to plug the gaps.

After stints with Palm Beach and Brisbane City, striker Jordy Campbell has returned to the region and will make his debut for the Rams up front.

Englishman Sam Clark will start on the flank in just his second game after scoring on debut in Byron Bay's opening Anzac Cup match.

Rams junior Mitch McGrath has also earned his first start in defence, with Ware predicting a tight clash.

"After playing them in the Anzac Cup we know they can knock the ball around well and have some danger players, but this is not a trial game now and it's time for us to get serious," Ware warned.



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