Two-time defending Blowes Clothing Cup champions Orange Emus face a pair of massive challenges in Saturday’s third round, a reportedly full-strength Cowra Eagles side and a wealth of unavailability.
The greens have cruised through the opening two rounds, defeating Dubbo Rhinos and then unexpectedly smashing Forbes in a grand final rematch, while Cowra has dropped both games and looked a shadow of the side it has been in recent seasons.
But with a number of previously unavailable stars expected to return this weekend, signs are promising for the Eagles. Especially considering the greens are without five regulars.
Props Al Hattersley and Michael Graham are out, as are AJ Sykes and Simon Badgery while Alo Finau misses the first of three weeks he’ll serve of the sidelines after being red carded in reserve grade in round two.
Central West bookend Nas Havealeta has been named, but is also under an injury cloud.
“Reading between the lines, Cowra has had a few guys out and I think they’re going to be back this week. Three of four good quality players will make a huge difference to their side, so we’re expecting it to be tough,” Emus skipper Nigel Staniforth said.
“We’ve got a few guys out, so it will be a big challenge for us but it also creates opportunity for a few guys who are good enough to be in first grade anyway.
“We’re lucky we have a lot of depth, particularly in the front-row this year, so a few guys come in and get their chance. There’ll be room for a few impact sort of guys to come off the bench too, who might not normally get that opportunity.
“It puts pressure on the regular first graders, so we all welcome it and it’s great to be able to try and form some new combinations too.”
One of those lower graders getting a crack is prop Brent Braithwaite.
A member of Emus’ losing grand final side in 2014, Braithwaite, known affectionately as Blocker, has been a notable absentee from the greens’ camp recently.
He battled a neck problem before having a crack at rugby league, but returned to Emus at the end of last season and then again this summer. He’s raring to go, and substantially lighter.
“He’s fit too. He’s dropped a lot of weight and he’s actually really surprised us at training,” Staniforth said.
“He’s got a big engine, we were working through some fitness drills on Tuesday and Blocker was right up the front. He did the same in some speed and agility stuff we worked through too. I’m actually really looking forward to seeing what he can do in the top grade now he is lighter, and fitter.”
Cohesion shouldn’t be an issue despite the changes, Staniforth said, thanks to Emus’ new structure through the grades.
“First and second grade have been doing a lot of training together in the pre-season and through the first two rounds,” he explained.
“We all know the structures we’re working through so we won’t be simplifying the way we play, we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing because we’re confident our lower grade guys can slot in pretty seamlessly.”
Emus host Cowra at Endeavour Oval on Saturday, from 3.15pm.
- ORANGE EMUS: 1 Nas Havealeta, 2 Tom Goolagong, 3 Brent Braithwaite, 4 Sam McLean, 5 Nick Hughes-Clapp, 6 Scott McLean, 7 Andrew Selwood, 8 Rob Thorburn, 9 Sam Green, 10 TJ Cunynghame, 11 Tom Green, 12 Lachie Harris, 13 Carter Hirini, 14 Levi Russell, 15 Nigel Staniforth ©