Wollongbar-Alstonville winger Vinnie Leatigaga in an FNC Rugby Union game against Lismore last season. The Pioneers begin their premiership defence next month.
Wollongbar-Alstonville winger Vinnie Leatigaga in an FNC Rugby Union game against Lismore last season. The Pioneers begin their premiership defence next month. Marc Stapelberg

Pioneers ready to tackle Bulls in quest for third premiership

WOLLONGBAR-Alstonville will kick-off its quest for a third straight premiership in Far North Coast Rugby Union with a home game against the Casino Bulls at Lyle Park next month.

The Pioneers are coming off an undefeated season and will take on the Bulls in the first round of the competition on April 23.

Despite losing a handful of players they will still be the team to beat in 2016 with hooker Bill Johnston taking over from John Jenkins as coach.

Johnston will keep playing while NSW Country five-eighth Ben Damen will lead the backline.

The Bulls will have a young side again and look to improve on last season.

Meanwhile, Lennox Head and Ballina will resume their rivalry at Williams Reserve, Lennox Head, in the first round.

The Trojans beat Ballina at the same venue in the minor semi-final last season.

It will be the first game back in charge for Ballina coach Chris Hickey who last coached the team in 1993.

He went on to coach the NSW Waratahs in Super Rugby with the Seahorses hoping to have a successful campaign under him in the club’s 40th season in the competition.

Elsewhere, Byron Bay and Lismore City will clash with No 8 Will Cotterill back coaching the Greens this season after a stint at Bangalow.

City were disappointing last year and will be pushing to be back in the semi-final fold.

Byron made its first grand final in the top grade last season with Paul Jeffery returning as coach for a third year.

Jeffery has plenty on his plate at the moment with an assistant coaching role with the NSW Country Colts.

And Bangalow should improve with a new coach and some handy recruits when they host Southern Cross University in the first round.

Warren Fisher will coach the Rebels after previously being at the helm of arch rivals Byron Bay and in an assistant role at Ballina.

It is an eight-team competition this season with the Grafton Redmen going back to the Mid North Coast competition.

There is a bye on May 7 for the NSW Country Championships with the grand final set down for September 10 at Crozier Field, Lismore.



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