THIS time 12 months ago, Central West Blue Bulls coach Matt McRobert was plotting his team’s potential return to the top tier of NSW Country rugby union having been demoted after the 2012 Country Championships.
Despite carrying a talented team into the competition, a 13-10 loss to Illawarra in round one had forced them into the second tier Richardson Shield for the 2013 edition of the event.
At the time McRobert was convinced that his team were good enough to compete against the best, and his view was vindicated as they easily won the Richardson Shield and earned redemption.
In the coming weeks his team will once more begin preparations for the season ahead as they line up in the Caldwell Cup, beginning with trials in Dubbo on Sunday, January 19.
Despite drawing perennial favourites Newcastle Hunter for round one of the Championships, McRobert is already in a positive frame of mind about the challenge ahead.
“Our mail is that we’re going to get a lot of repeat customers in terms of players backing up from last year. We’ve had a good response from most of the clubs around the Central West,” the coach said.
“Most notably Cowra on the back of a pretty successful 2013 gave us a very good response.
“We’re stepping up this year. It is a big test but playing at home in Mudgee will give us some extra motivation, and we’re really looking forward to seeing what we can do.
“Newcastle Hunter have won the title for the last five or six years and are a very professional outfit and seem to blow their opposition away in the final each year, so we’re under no illusions as to the size of the task.”
With some changes to the Central West rugby union, including Mudgee’s elevation into the main competition having previously been in the Australian National Field Days Cup, there could be a flow-on effect to the Blue Bulls side.
“It is a challenge, it is a step up, and we believe there are more players we haven’t seen yet who can add to the team and should put their hand up"
At any rate, McRobert is quick to clarify that he and the rest of the team’s coaching and selection group want as much involvement as possible from all clubs, big and small.
“We really hope that with Mudgee coming back in, and the fact that they’re hosting the Championships, will get a lot of guys from that way putting their hands up,” he said.
“In the last few years we’ve really tried to involve the ANFD Cup teams. Central West covers a huge zone now and we took a trial game against the Canberra Royals to Grenfell and we got a great response.
“This year we’ve decided to hold our selection trial in Dubbo and our training sessions in Dubbo, Parkes and Orange to keep things fairly central.
“It is a big ask to get everyone to training regularly but the response from the players has been great, and we want as many guys as possible getting involved.
“It is a challenge, it is a step up, and we believe there are more players we haven’t seen yet who can add to the team and should put their hand up.”
McRobert cited the efforts and dedication of players like Parkes forward Ben Ryan and Dubbo ’Roos centre Filisone Pauta as examples of dedication and opportunity that the Blue Bulls offer.
“Ben is a classic example. He’s been outstanding for us and has been offered a spot playing Shute Shield in Sydney, but he’s decided to have another year with Parkes and try to win a Country Championship,” the coach explained.
“Peter Nau from Dubbo was a hair’s breadth from playing against the British and Irish Lions last year through his representative stuff that started with the Blue Bulls.
“The trial is open to all-comers. The squad is certainly not picked already and last year we saw Filisone Pauta show up, no one had ever heard of him and he ended up playing for the Country Cockatoos.”
The Central West trial will be held at Dubbo’s Apex Oval from 4pm on Sunday week.