RETURNING lock Nick Hughes-Clapp will lead a new-look Orange Emus side gunning to begin its 2014 Blowes Clothing Cup on a high at Bathurst’s Ashwood Park.
Drawn a Bulldogs team welcoming back a wealth of star power including hulking backrower Hayden Tidswell, Hughes-Clapp believes the road trip to Bathurst will give his Emus outfit an early season litmus test.
“The way everyone is talking, it sounds like Bathurst will be one of the form teams,” Hughes-Clapp said.
“They’ve picked up some good players and some old players returning who are excellent. It’ll be a good yard stick for where we’re at first game.”
Last playing for Emus in 2009 before moving to rival Central West Rugby Union club CSU Bathurst and more recently the Manly Warringah Rats, Hughes-Clapp has been named vice-captain of his junior club for the 2014 season.
Deputising for outside centre Nigel Staniforth, Hughes-Clapp said he was confident Emus would at least improve on their wooden-spoon finish in 2013.
“I applied for a teaching job here, I was looking to move back and I was lucky enough to get it,” the 27-year-old primary school teacher said, adding a strong pre-season has Emus ready for round one.
“It’s hard to tell before we play a game but it has a good feeling around the club at the moment.
“There’s plenty of new players and the patterns we’re running are working quite well.”
A rangy second-rower, Hughes-Clapp is a former Blue Bulls representative capable of dominating his side’s own line-out throws and pinching that of his opposition at will.
He’ll lead a virtually untested Emus pack.
Brandon Akerstrom returns to the Greens front row, while Keith Howarth has made the transition from second row to hooker.
Prop Nase Havealeta and back-rower Alo Finau will make their Emus debuts while Jayden Norris and Rob Thurnburn complete the club’s new-look back row ahead of tomorrow’s season opener.
Hughes-Clapp said his focus was on tightening the side’s set pieces.
“It’s a goal of ours, and we’ve got what looks like quite a good back line. Hopefully we can secure enough quality ball for them to do something with,” he said.
Emus make the trip to Bathurst to tackle the Bulldogs from 3.15pm on Saturday.
ORANGE EMUS: 1 Brandon Akerstrom, 2 Keith Howarth, Nase Havealeta, 4 Sam McLean, 5 Nick Hughes-Clapp, 6 Alo Finau, 7 Jayden Norris, 8 Rob Thurnburn, 9 TJ Cunynghame, 10 Sam Ryan, 11 Cartin Hirini, 12 Tim Alison, 13 Nigel Staniforth (c), 14 Tom Green, 15 Adam Perri.
BATHURST BULLDOGS: 1 Chris Plunkett, 2 Mark Donnelley, 3 Sean Fogarty, 4 Izaak Breen, 5 Matt Boyle, 6 Hayden Tidswell, 7 Angus Cleaver, 8 Adam Dwyer, 9 Tom Hollis, 10 Phil Tonkin, 11 Jack Roberson, 12 Tom Joseph, 13 Josh Lee, 14 Ben Shepperd, 15 Brodie Scott