FAR North Coast rugby is looking to the future with 27-year-old Lennox Head centre Sam Stewart to lead the side into a new era.
Stewart will be part of a three-man leadership group to take the reins for tonight’s clash with Gold Coast Breakers at Oakes Oval, but all signs point to the menacing ball-runner taking on the job long-term.
The match will be the curtain-raiser to the Waratahs-v-Reds match.
Dolphins manager Dave Arthur believes Stewart is the perfect candidate to lead an underdog team into what shapes as an uphill battle.
“Sam is a natural communicator, he has a great knowledge of rugby, a good demeanour and a huge heart,” Arthur said.
“He is a born leader.”
Part of the Dolphins squad which took a shellacking at the 2009 Country Championships, Stewart knows the taste of defeat but can already feel a change among the group.
“Last year was disappointing; we didn’t win a game but this year is a different story altogether,” Stewart said.
Like his coaches, Stewart can feel the pride returning to the Dolphins jersey, which has come through a more professional approach by all involved.
“The new management are building a whole new culture around the place,” Stewart said.
“It makes the players want to turn up and really have a crack.”
Stewart is looking forward to having a full squad of team-mates this campaign after experiencing the 2009 debacle which was always fun, but almost comical.
“Last year we would be picking up blokes on the bus on the way to games,” he said.
“This year we have had 30-plus turn up to every training session, the beauty of that is it breeds competition within the squad which can only make us better.”
The Dolphins rally has been well-supported by the local clubs which now have representative rugby on the agenda.
“Rep footy wasn’t pushed really hard by the clubs in the past but now they are more than happy to have us turn out,” Stewart said.
The re-scheduling of the rep season, which now finishes before the local competition starts, allows players to be available for the full season at club level.
Stewart will lead his team on to Oakes Oval for the first time at 5:15pm today.