The pain of watching his beloved club struggle throughout the 2018 season inspired Russell Lardner to return to the Macleay Valley Mustangs as player-coach and help lay the platforms for a positive future.
Lardner, who first wore a Mustangs jersey in the Under-18s, spent last year on the sidelines after having a shoulder reconstruction and witnessed the club forced to withdraw from the senior grades.
The 35-year-old is a well-respected figure in the community and returned to the club to hasten the rebuild.
“After watching last year, I knew I had to come back and do what I can to help the club,” Lardner told the Argus.
“There’s been a lot of changes from the top to the bottom and we want everyone to know we are an inclusive family club.”
Lardner claims the Mustangs have been known as an “Indigenous club” but he wanted to express the door is open for everyone.
“We are aware people think the Mustangs is an Indigenous club but we are inclusive and welcome everyone who wishes to play rugby league to join,” he said.
The Mustangs are also strengthening their ties with the local junior club the Kempsey Dragons.
“The two clubs are going to be more involved with each other than ever before,” Lardner said.
"All of the senior players will do their part in helping the junior players and the Dragons club.”
Lardner is owner of Dunghutti Fitness and his healthy lifestyle attitude has had a positive impact on the Mustangs in pre-season training and the dummy half is leading by example.
“We started pre-season in November with around 60 blokes and we have never done that before,” Lardner said.
“We have been training really hard and a lot of our players wanted to continue through the Christmas and New Year period but I decided we needed a break to spend time with our families.
“We are back on the paddock training hard now though and we have had more than 30 players at each session throughout January and that number will increase with school holidays coming to an end.”
While the Mustangs’ players will have a high fitness level when the season commences, the side has also had a successful recruitment drive with local players declaring they will return to the club for the 2019 season.
“There are a few past Mustangs players, who are elite rugby league players, who have returned to play for us,” Lardner said.
“I am very confident we will field two competitive senior sides.”
The Mustangs have also appointed Allan Lockwood and Richard Campbell as reserve grade co-coaches, Beau Russell-Docherty and Kempsey Dragons Junior Rugby League Club president Reuben Jones are the Under-18s co-coaches and Clarissa Walker is the Ladies League Tag coach.
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