Northern Rivers in lead-up to NRL clash

By ADRIAN MILLER THE Northern Rivers rugby league representative team will take to the field for the first time this season against Gold Coast on Sunday and coach Jamie O??Connor is predicting a spiteful affair.

The Retravision Northern League will play a split round this weekend as the two rep sides meet at Carrarra Stadium in the curtain-raiser to the NRL clash between the Gold Coast Titans and the Parramatta Eels.

Northern Rivers will use the game as a warm-up for their NSW Country Championship clash with Western Division next weekend.

It will be the first time the rep sides have played each other and even though it??s only a trial, O??Connor, the NSW Country Player of the Year in 2002, reckons there won??t be anything friendly about it.

??There??s a bit of rivalry between the two competitions considering a lot of Group 18 sides used to play on the Gold Coast before Group One and 18 joined,?? he said.

??There??ll be plenty of spite in this match, particularly after the Cudgen scenario, so we??ll be competing pretty heavily.??

The Northern Rivers made the semi-finals of the NSW Country Championship last year, losing to Newcastle after they knocked out Central Coast.

They last won the title in 2002.

O??Connor said he had managed to keep the nucleus of the 2006 side together, while adding plenty of danger across the park.

??We??ve had a few hiccups along the way with injuries but we??ve kept guys like Jason Willis, Steve Kirkham, Shannon Murphy (Murwillumbah), Graham Smallwood (South Tweed) and Travis Falls (Casino), so we??re shaping up pretty good,?? he said.

??But we also have guys like Roy Bell (Lower Clarence), Wise Kativerata (Marist Brothers) and Dylan Montgomery (Ballina), who are all dangerous.??

O??Connor said his side didn??t know what to expect from the Gold Coast on Sunday, but believed it didn??t really matter what they produced.

??They will be tough but we??ll play a speedy game and try to pick the pace up as much as we can,?? he said.

??It will be a physical game, especially in the forwards, but we??ll look to move them around.

??But it??s a matter of who turns up on the day and who wants it more and they??ll get a surprise come Sunday.?? O??Connor said he expected both sides to perform at their best, particulary with the Titans and Eels watching.

??Players always want to play on the bigger stages and with this area being a feeder for the Titans the players will be keen to show the NRL clubs what they can do,?? he said. ?z NORTHERN RIVERS: Fullback, Shannon Murphy (M??Bah); wingers, Roy Bell (Lower Clarence), Niko Vakararawa (Brothers); centres, Jason Willis (M??bah), Wise Kativerata (Brothers); five-eighth, Clint Barends (South Tweed); halfback, David Hicks (M??bah); props Dylan Montogmery (Ballina), Steve Kirkham (M??bah); hooker, Nathan Jordan (Tweed Coast); second row, Scott Cook (M??bah), Jeff Moate (M??bah); lock, Graham Smallwood (South Tweed). Interchange: Adam Aitkin (Tweed Coast), David Skuse (South Tweed), Ashley Laffranchi (M??bah), Travis Falls (Casino). Coach Jamie O??Connor. ?z ?? In the Retravision Northern League??s split round this weekend, South Grafton play Ballina at Grafton and Mullumbimby take on Cudgen at Mullumbimby. Both will be played tomorrow night, with first grade from about 5.30pm. The other games for this round will be played over the June long weekend.

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