THIS year's Group Three Rugby League competition will be one of the most closely fought in recent seasons.
The majority of coaches agreed on this at the season launch held at the Wingham Services Club.
All said it's good to be back playing after last year's competition was canned due to COVID-19.
Forster-Tuncurry's Tom Freeman was the only absentee, with five-eighth Blake English deputising.
Anthony Cowan returns to premiers Macleay Mustangs this year in the coaching role. He played with Port Breakers in 2019. Cowan said the Mustangs will field a young side, having lost some players to the two Hastings League clubs in the Macleay area.
"But we'll be competitive,'' he promised.
Trae Clark takes the reins at Taree City. He said returning to his home club and helping the Bulls rebuild is his motivation.
Since leaving Taree Clark has played at Canberra and in the Queensland Cup before returning to Group Three to play with Port City. He said the Bulls are putting together a solid roster, made up almost entirely of local players.
"Things are coming together pretty well,'' he said.
Mick Henry will travel from Muswellbrook to lead Old Bar. He's a Pirate junior who also had a stint with Taree City.
Henry said the Pirates have a plethora of halves and that'll give him food for thought when naming his team for the opening match of the season against Port Macquarie on Saturday May 1.
The Pirates have also made the last three under 18 grand finals and Henry said that fortunately a number of those players are now working in the area, so the club will benefit.
Henry and Wingham's Mick Sullivan said no first grade players will be given permission to turn out with rugby union clubs this year.
Sullivan confirmed this will be his final season as a player. This year Wingham will mark the 100th anniversary of rugby league starting in town. Sullivan said that while this is a great milestone, he also wants to play down the hype so his players concentrate on the main goal of winning the premiership.
Both Port Macquarie clubs will be on the road until at least late May as the Regional Stadium is out of action after being flooded twice this year.
Port Sharks coach David Geary said this will be a challenge, but he is confident his side is up to the task. He revealed the club has signed former NRL player Jeremy Latimore. Latimore, a prop and Port junior had stints with Parramatta, New Zealand, St. George-Illawarra, Penrith and Cronulla in a lengthy career.
Port City's Dan Kemp is confident the Breakers will also be able to handle the extended time away from home, saying his squad is training hard. He expects a number of younger players will come through the ranks this year to play first grade.
Beau Kettle and Matt Bird will share the coaching duties at Wauchope. Kettle had previous coaching experience in the Hastings League and said he's looking forward to playing in Group Three again.
He said the Blues have lost some experienced players, but he is confident they'll put a solid side on the paddock.
English said the Hawks are training solidly under new coach Freeman.
"We just can't wait for the comp to start,'' he said.
Former top referee Mick Stone was the guest speaker.
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