He was one of Cowra’s best in its Blowes Clothing Cup campaign and now John Grant, a former Eastwood and Australian Sevens star, is set to front in the 2017 edition of the National Rugby Championship (NRC), which kicks off this weekend.
But he won’t play for NSW Country.
Grant has been plucked from the Eagles’ backline and named in the Greater Sydney Rams squad.
Orange City Lions junior Jack Grant and Kinross products Nick Duffy and Cody Walker won’t don the orange and black of the Eagles either despite their regional roots, as a result of their respective Shute Shield clubs’ affiliations they’ve been named in the Sydney Rays’ 30-man squad.
While they won’t represent the Eagles, selection in their respective squads is a huge opportunity – particularly for the three youngsters.
NSW Country did name its squad this week too, one that will turn out at Orange’s Endeavour Oval later this year.
Former Orange CYMS junior and Calare Public School graduate Ryan McCauley retains his place in the Eagles’ squad, former Narromine Gorilla Pat McCutcheon has also been named as has Cowra’s Harry Johnson-Holmes.
Newly-signed NSW Waratahs lock Tom Staniforth, who has strong roots in West Wyalong and is a cousin of Orange Emus skipper Nigel Staniforth, is also in the Eagles’ 31-strong outfit.
Tamworth’s Paddy Ryan will skipper the side again, which will face Brisbane City at Emus’ home ground on October 28. The likes of Quade Cooper and Kane Douglas – both capped Wallabies – are in the Brisbane squad.
Ahead of Saturday’s season-opener against Grant’s Rams NSW Country coach Darren Coleman – fresh off winning the Shute Shield with Warringah – says he’s confident his squad can replicate last year’s success.
The Eagles lost just one game on the way to last year’s decider, where they were beaten by Perth Spirit.
He also said he’s looking forward to returning to Orange, inclement weather and the state of Endeavour Oval after a wet winter forced last year’s scheduled fixture against the Spirit to be moved.
“We got rained out in Orange last year, so it’s great to be heading back there,” Coleman told rugbynews.net.au.
“[Last year] was a great year to be a part of. There was a great vibe within the group from day one and unfortunately we tripped at the last hurdle.
“I’ve still got quite a few regrets about that game. We played a really attacking style all season and scored 35 plus points most weeks and we tried to do that in the final at night in wet conditions and it just didn’t work.
“It was a real hollow way to end what was a great season.
“We’ve got 19 or 20 players returning from last year and I think that’s the best retention rate we’ve had over the years, that’s exciting and should help us hit the ground running.
“We won’t have a lot of time before round one, so that could end up being quite important.”
The Eagles will be without Coonamble’s Ned Hanigan and Dubbo’s Tom Robertson, both have graduated to the Wallabies squad.
“We’ll miss a few of those guys, but hopefully we’ve got the next Ned Hanigan playing in our side this year,” Coleman said.
That’s a crucial aspect of the NRC, it can provide up-and-comers with another pathway to the top level.
"Ned has shown that it is possible," McCauley said.
"He has played some really, really good rugby in the last 12 months so he has earned that opportunity and I think it shows this competition can propel you to that level."
NSW Country will also turn out at Armidale, Tamworth and Goulburn.
“We’re going to a few new places and returning to a few of the towns that we love playing at,” Coleman said.
“I know in Armidale, the university is getting right behind the match and Tamworth always puts on a great day.”
The Eagles’ season-opener against the Rams kicks off at 3pm TG Milner Oval.