Casino Cougars hooker Brad Birney
Casino Cougars hooker Brad Birney

Veteran hooker is back for Cougars

STAND-IN Casino hooker Brad Birney wasn’t all that keen to face the rigours of NRRRL first grade this season.

But the 33-year-old will enter the furnace tonight when the Cougars take on Northern United at Crozier Field, Lismore.

A rib injury to first-choice five-eighth Kev Wills has forced a reshuffle in the Casino squad with Birney drafted in to serve from dummy-half and plug gaps around the ruck.

The crafty hooker won’t let his club down but at the same time isn’t looking for a reinstatement to the top grade.

“I was only planning on playing reserve grade this year,” Birney said.

“It’s a fair step up to the top grade; I hope it’s only once.”

The 33-year-old’s wishes are based not on a lack of skill or confidence, just a winding down of his football career.

“To play first grade consistently takes a real commitment to the fitness,” he said.

“It takes plenty of work and at this stage I am happy plugging away in reserves.”

The Cougars may need Birney to do a bit more than ‘plug away’ if they are to turn around a horror opening to the season against the Dirawongs tonight.

And playing in greasy conditions under lights probably won’t help their cause.

“We had trouble holding on to the ball last week,” he said.

“I reckon we only completed about six sets so it’s going to take a bit more concentration if we are to match United.”

The Cougars go into the match minus their most fearsome forward with Samoan Sef Silafau away on rep duty.

Todd Johnson moves from the centres to cover for the back-rower but Birney knows those are big shoes to fill.

“Sef is a real impact player and probably our most intimidating forward,” he said.

“So we will lose a bit of go-forward there.”

But the opposition has also been hit by rep duty with playmaker Willie Hammond and captain Alwyn Roberts turning out for the Northern Rivers Thunderbolts at Port Macquarie tonight.

First grade kicks off at 8.20pm; Under-18s at 5.45pm.

Teams:

Northern United: Fullback, Grant Brown; wingers, Fred Pitt, Jamal Roberts; centres, David Briggs, Gary Roberts; five-eighth, Burwood Robinson; half, Evan Hickling; props, Dave Fernando, Les Roberts; hooker, Tyler Williams; second-row, James Roberts, Marshall Leisha; lock, Garnet Donnelly. Coach: Chris Binge.

Casino Cougars: Fullback, Ben Birney; wingers, Tom Farr, Dan McDermott; centres, Alexx Johnson, Brent Scott-Hall; five-eighth, Matt Roberts (c); half, James Hammond; props, Bryce Patton, Chris McGrath; hooker, Brad Birney; second-row, Caleb McIntyre, Todd Johnson; lock, James Barker. Coach: Dene Petty.



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