Lismore?s lineout wonder
By STEVE SPINKS
NEW South Wales rugby union coach Ewen McKenzie remembers well the first time he met Wallaby second-rower Justin Harrison.
McKenzie, who was in Lismore yesterday to announce plans for a visit by the full Waratahs squad on February 3, smiled as he thought of his first impressions of the lineout giant.
McKenzie had come to Lismore to be a guest speaker at the Southern Cross University Rugby Club presentation night in 1993.
It was with the Gold Rats that Harrison had played his first season of rugby union as a raw-boned 19-year-old.
"Actually it was up here that I first met him," McKenzie smiled.
"He was the big hard-drinking, street-fighting second-rower."
Asked if anything had changed, McKenzie seemed genuine.
"Definitely ... he's turned over a new leaf," the Waratahs coach chuckled.
"He's engaged to be married."
Fast forward a decade and McKenzie is now the coach of Harrison at the Waratahs after Australia's premier lineout winner switched camps from the ACT Brumbies to NSW at the end of 2003.
Harrison and the rest of his Wallaby team-mates, including Lote Tuqiri, Matt Rogers, Dan Vickerman, Phil Waugh, David Lyons, Al Baxter, Brendan Cannon and Stephen Hoiles, will be part of the visiting Waratah squad in February, barring injury.
They will be joined by a new brigade of youngsters coming through who impressed during the Waratahs' recent four-week tour of Argentina.
"There are a few guys to look out for," McKenzie said.
"Winston Mafi (wing/centre) was a bloke I found playing second grade last season.
"Cliff (Wycliff) Palu (backrow) will be an impact player.
"He's just come back after a stint in league and he's in good shape."
McKenzie also mentioned Eastwood prop Benn Robinson and Australian Schoolboys halfback Josh Holmes as having bright futures in the game.
The visit to Lismore by the Waratahs in February will be made via Singleton and Armidale with NSW on their way to play the Queensland Reds in the Southern Cross pre-season competition.
NSW will hold a full training session open to the public at 4pm at Crozier Field and will then attend a fundraising dinner at the Southern Cross University Union for the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter.
They will leave Lismore on the Friday for Brisbane.
Tickets for the dinner are available by contacting Howard Atkinson on 0412 665 664.