By STEVE SPINKS
MUCH has been made about the Ballina Seagulls' star signing Milton Thaiday, who will make his return to local football tomorrow against Byron Bay in the first round of the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League at Kingsford Smith Park, Ballina.
Thaiday, a former NSW Waratahs rugby union player, was thought to be the only major signing for the Seagulls this season.
But Ballina pulled a swifty.
Unknown to most of the competition, former South Sydney fullback Shaun Laurie has slipped into town and straight into the Seagulls' starting line-up.
Laurie, a David Peachey look-a-like, has moved back to the Northern Rivers from the Central Coast to be closer to his family.
"I surprised a lot of people," Laurie chuckled about his quiet entrance into town.
"I started with Ballina three weeks ago and we've been waiting for a release, which has just been completed.
"I sacrificed a lot being away from my family to try to further my career in the NRL, but unfortunately I didn't get there."
Laurie first linked with the Seagulls in 2002 before getting an opportunity to trial with Souths in 2003.
He spent the pre-season with the Rabbitohs and started a number of trial games before injuring his shoulder.
Laurie returned from injury in the Souths premier league team, but grew disillusioned with his progress and the club, so he headed back to Ballina for the rest of the season.
Last year he played with The Entrance in the Jeam Beam Cup and ended up as the competition's leading try-scorer.
"I still didn't get a mention in any rep team down there," the 27-year-old said.
"It hurt me, but I've moved on.
"My little fellas are at school now and it feels so different to be back up here with them.
"Down there I didn't want to train or play, but now I'm back here I really want to train and play."
As for Ballina coach Chris Binge, he can't stop smiling.
About the biggest problem he's had during the past few weeks is deciding who would start fullback ... Laurie or Thaiday.
"I just let them sort it out themselves," Binge laughed.
"I think I must be the luckiest coach in the Group.
"I'm sure there are a few coaches who would love to have some of the players we have.
"But now we've got a good group of players we have to get them working on their combinations."
Ballina will also be starting new signings Clayton Morris, Grant Erickson and Matt Slattery.
First grade is set to start at 2.30pm.
BALLINA: Fullback, Shaun Laurie; wingers, Clayton Morris, Trent Gasnier; centres, Milton Thaiday, Ashley Moran; five-eighth, Justin Bolt; halfback, Troy Johnstone (c); props, Les Roberts, Grant Erickson; hooker, Matt Temby; second-rowers, Matt Slattery, Mitch Aubusson; lock, Alwyn Roberts. Interchange: Tyler Iverson. Coach: Chris Binge.
Gains: Milton Thaiday (NSW Waratahs), Shaun Laurie (Entrance), Grant Erickson (Central Coast), Matt Slattery (Brisbane), Clayton Morris (Byron Bay), Paul King (Wardell), Josh Mather (Lennox Head).
Losses: Steve Parsons (retired), Marshall Scott (moved away), Kris Krause (Balmain), Scott Gibson (Marist Brothers), Chris Booth (Byron Bay), Dave Turner (not playing), Aaron Ellis (not playing).
BYRON BAY: Fullback, Dean Phelps (c); wingers, Dwayne Cahill, Nick Bawden; centres, Chris King, Noel King; five-eighth, Tom Darwin; halfback, Charles King; props, Sonny Filimoehala, Lee Brown; hooker, Justin Keevers; second-rowers, Lincoln Raudonikis, Matt Slattery; lock, Chris Booth. Coach: Arthur Sauverain.
Gains: Charles King (Penrith), Tom Darwin (Darwin), Nick Bawden (Kyogle), Chris Booth (Ballina), Lincoln Raud-onikis (rugby), Matt Slattery (Erina), Lee Brown (Ballina).
Losses: Paul Mitchell (Mullumbimby), Craig Abbott (Mullumbimby), Ewan McGrady, Sean Skelton (retired), Jason McGrady, Clayton Morris (Ballina), Michael Murphy.