Welcome to the Central Western Daily's official season preview for the 2021 Woodbridge Cup.
This year's title race will feature nine teams from across the Central West region with the hugely-successful Trundle Boomers looking to advance to the grand-final for the sixth year in-a-row.
After taking a year off in 2020, all the sides are hard at-work putting the final pieces in place before the season-opening round this weekend.
This winter's campaign looks to be as open as it's ever been, but who's going to take out the title?
Let's find out.
SQUAD: Phil Ingram, Sam Ingram, Ashley Brown, Trever Campbell, Wesley Blair, Nathaniel Davis, Isaiah Lucas, Shaq Lucas, Tom Markey, Jake Martin, Jake Powell, Tom Romer, Timothy Slater, Anthony Smythe, Mat Watson, Hayden Murrie, Damien Dolan, Bert Murphy, Mark Williams, Dylan Phillips, Mark Williams.
CLUB SAYS: Newly-appointed captain-coach Phil Ingram is excited to kick-off his first season at the helm of the Heelers but isn't sure what to expect from the playing group.
After all, he's had very little to do with the majority of the team but based on what he's seen at training, thinks there's potential there.
"A lot of us haven't played together but I'm hoping to be competitive and mix it with some of the better teams," Ingram said.
"It's going to take a bit of time for us to gel because we're a new team that's only just coming together.
"There's a few young fellas I've ear-marked to step up and play well, and a lot of them are keen to do that."
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jake Powell will line up at fullback for Cargo and is expected to be a handful for opposing players. With Ingram playing five-eighth, the skipper's hoping he can give him some quality ball and put him through a few gaps.
2019 FINISH: Seventh.
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Eighth, and a small step back from 2019. The Heelers obviously have potential and a sizeable roster, but after losing all three Brodrick boys from last year, as well as Ryley Oborn, Lawrence Fogg, and Dan Madden, it's hard to see where the men in blue make up for that this winter. We don't expect them to get blitzed every weekend, but in a competition with so much talent across the board, we couldn't put them any higher.
SQUAD: Kaleb Mullins, Zac Reimer, Jayden Fahey, Nick Smith, Luke Wrigley, Luke Petrie, Will Petrie, Jack Gibson, Lachie Sharp, Simon O'Brien, Jake Mullins, Semisi Tupou, Mitch Gibson, Hugh Gibson, Blake Gibson, Grant Williams, Tyson Wilkins, Jack Gavin, Jack Willis, Lachlan Middleton.
COACH: Luke Petrie
CLUB SAYS: Former Orange CYMS' half Luke Petrie made the switch to Manildra for the 2021 season and wants to keep things simple to start the year off.
With a lot of blokes playing their first game for a couple of seasons, the goal during Sunday's season opener against Peak Hill - and for the bulk of the season - will be to defend well ... from that, Petrie expects the results to come.
"The shape isn't going to be there straight away," Petrie said. "But, as long as we're completing our sets and getting our defence right, we'll be happy.
"Training's been good, we've had a good pre-season, and everyone's looking pretty strong."
PLAYER TO WATCH: A former Orange City Lions back, Nick Smith has jumped codes and will play in the centres for the Rhinos this winter. Petrie's dubbed him as a player to watch. Not only will Smith play a key role, but so will Semisi Tupou, the Orange CYMS premiership-winning powerhouse will look to make an impact from the get-go.
2019 FINISH: Second.
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Fifth, and a finals berth. There's every chance Manildra could wind up in the top four, but based on the departing talent, we'll back them to regress slightly in 2021. Mitch Gallagher, Harrison Gersbach and Simon Osborne all look to be huge losses, and even though the likes of Petrie and Tupou will step in, we don't expect the wins to come thick and fast, especially to start the year off.
SQUAD: Josh Amberge, Dan Madden, Harrison Gersbach, Luke Wilson, Andrew Drady, Cody Whiting, Kade Barrow, Codie Lang, Blake Hutchinson, Jack Bastic, Jim Gavin, Jordan Packham, Kaleb Weekes, Scotty Nichols, Woody Mann, Glen Bunworth, Lawrence Fogg, Wilson Dean, Michael walker, Mitch Gallagher, Zac White, Beau Westcott, Jye Barrow, Todd Barrow.
COACH: Todd Barrow
CLUB SAYS: Defence wins championships. It's an adage that's thrown around left, right and centre on a global sporting scale, and it's how Todd Barrow is approaching the looming Woodbridge Cup season.
"If you can get your defence sorted in this competition, it goes a long way to winning games, he said.
"Everything else will build off your defence. We don't have any concrete goals, we just want to be competitive every weekend."
After such a long time on the sidelines, Barrow doesn't think previous success will be much of an indicator this winter, suggesting it's somewhat of a clean slate going into 2021.
"Trundle have been the best side in the comp for the last five years, but you can't rely on past seasons," he said. "Everyone's just excited to play footy again."
PLAYER TO WATCH: Barrow's dubbed Josh Amberge as one of the key men for the Bulls this year, suggesting he's come back from the layoff in peak condition. Not only will the young half be someone to keep an eye on, so will Zac White. He's set to play fullback after switching over from Molong Magpies rugby.
2019 FINISH: Third.
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: First, and a Woodbridge Cup premiership. It seems fitting that Molong would go on to win the competition in 2021. After the passing of club icon Dave Barrow, the Bulls will be playing with heavy hearts, and that almost always leads to big performances. Not only do they have motivation on their side, but the additions of Mitch Gallagher and Harrison Gersbach are massive. The Bulls are a lock for the top five.
SQUAD: Patrick Jones, Jacob Harvey, Clay Hartin, Matthew Bermingham, Albert Wykes, Brad Watt (Vc), Mitch Wright, Karl Turner, Mark Coombs, Blake Ridges, Jesse Durning (C/C), Jack Jones, Joseph Moss, Morgan Powter, Joel Curr, David Turner, Will Goodsell, Angus Braneley, Jake Maitland, Daniel Ashcroft, Dan Wallace, Bill Ryan, Andrew Ashe, Adam Hall.
COACH: Jessie Durning.
CLUB SAYS: Trundle has certainly established a winning culture in the last five seasons, but a lot of the players responsible for that positive shift have left the club.
While there's still plenty of talent lining up for the Boomers this year, captain-coach Jessie Durning admits there's been a bit of turnover.
"There's been a bit of a changing of the guard out here," he said.
"We lost a lot of experience so for us, with the young blokes, it's about headspace and being mentally strong.
"We want to turn that into productivity. I want to be preaching a positive attitude and discipline on the footy field."
While a lot of experience has left the side, Durning is adamant that the playing group is still very capable.
"We haven't lost any talent... there's still plenty of that there," he said.
We haven't lost any talent.Jessie Durning.
"Everyone in this competition aims to be in the grand final and if we finish anything less than top five, that's a waste of a season."
PLAYER TO WATCH: Pat Jones is the Boomers' marquee man this season. After making the switch from Parkes Boars rugby, Durning dubs the speedster as 'the most naturally talented player he's seen'.
2019 FINISH: Premiers.
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Third, and a small step back. After reading what Jessie Durning had to say, how could you predict this side to miss out on the finals? There's obviously a bit of a hole left by some of the departing players, but the roster size is extremely healthy and the Boomers simply know how to win games. They'll be a heavyweight yet again.
SQUAD: Blake Duncombe, Nathan Whatman, Kane Earsman, Ron Lawrence, Callum Clyburn, Joe Besadic, James Dine, Eman Rodriguez.
COACH: Kev Grimshaw
CLUB SAYS: Kev Grimshaw has a Group 10 Premiership under his belt with St Pat's, and has the same end goal for his tenure at Canowindra.
But, the mentor has admittedly been somewhat startled by the player availability in the Woodbridge Cup, stating it's been hard to get everyone on deck for training.
"It's been hard for us to get everyone together, we've had to adapt a bit to suit everyone," he said
Training has been tricky but Grimshaw won't be using that as an excuse and has highlighted the two areas where his side needs to be proficient early on.
"The two most important things for us are ball control, and a good kicking game," he said.
"You've got to be able to have a good completion rate to win games. There's a lot of news players here and obviously a new coach, so we're approaching it week-to-week.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Grimshaw couldn't single out one player, but is confident he's got a handful of impactful guys on the team.
2019 FINISH: Fourth.
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Sixth, and a disappointing overall season. Kev Grimshaw obviously has the coaching pedigree to shape a successful side in 2021, but there's doubts over the side's ability to start fast. The Tigers have long been a successful side in the Woodbridge Cup, and while we expect them to be in the mix for the bulk of the season, they just miss out on a finals berth.
SQUAD: Allan Gee, Adam Hewen, Sebastian Holz, Steve Taylor, Shannon Lee, Stephen Ingram, Ty Ashe, Travis Bryant, Josh Bateman, Brendan Hewen, Dan Harveyson, Nate Wilson, Aydan Eyles, Jai Purdie, Chris Hodgess, Selwyn White.
COACH: Steve Taylor
CLUB SAYS: Three weeks ago, the Grenfell Goannas were debating whether or not they'd field a side this season.
The club was battling for numbers, and called a crisis meeting to establish who was keen to play.
After the conference, Steve Taylor's men decided they'd have a crack this season, but there's certainly no guarantee of success.
"It's been hard for everyone to get back into it after having a year off," Taylor said.
"We've been training once a week and we might be a bit short of players, but we'll keep pushing regardless.
"We've always been competitive, and we're looking to blood some young fellas this season."
PLAYER TO WATCH: Steve Taylor's player to watch is Steve Taylor ... "watch me, because I'll probably need a lot of water," he laughed.
2019 FINISH: Fifth.
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Ninth, and a tough season on the paddock. You don't have to be a genius to see how we've arrived at this conclusion. Sure, the Goannas have always been a tough side to square off against, but the loss of the Ingram boys will hurt, and it looks as though they'll be struggling to run out a full 17 players every weekend.
SQUAD: Adam Brown, Andrew Vane-Tempest, Billy-Jack Dargin, Brandan Singh, Brodie McKenzie, Cody Sloan, Harley Riley, James Porter, Jason Thompson, Treigh Coe, Kwa Parker, Kyle Croker, Kyle Dargin, Luke Howorth, Lochlan Kiss, Malachi Trudgett, Mitch Bimsey, Peter Gorman, Stephen Aboy Daniels, Tim Atkinson, Troy Powell, Tyrone Johnstone, Dylan Powell, Warwick Sabbler.
COACH: Mark Whitla.
CLUB SAYS: Club veteran Adam Brown is well aware of Condobolin's struggles in 2019, but has high hopes for what this bolstered side can do in 2021.
"We've been getting some really good numbers at training," Brown.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we're strong enough to compete for a grand final. We struggled with numbers in 2019, and that was sad to see but we're looking solid this year."
We're strong enough to compete for a grand final.Adam Brown.
Of course winning is the priority for the Rams, but a crucial component of this year's title race is culture ... something Brown wants to improve this winter.
"We want to instill that mentality that regardless of the scoreline, we never give up," he said.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Big men Jason Thompson and Treigh Coe were circled by Brown as players to keep an eye on, with the latter having 'arms like tree trunks.'
2019 FINISH: Eighth.
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Seventh, and a competitive campaign. Finishing in this spot doesn't look great on paper, but when you consider the log jam that there's been throughout the middle of the Woodbridge ladder in recent seasons, it's not too bad. The Rams will be one of those teams that can win against most sides, but will ultimately miss out on the playoffs.
EUGOWRA GOLDEN EAGLES
SQUAD: Ged Herbert, Lockie S, Ed Thomas, Bryce Park, Ethan Markwort, Kurt Mylecharane, Ricky Whitton, Aaron Wykamp, Tas Spackman, Larry Wyner, Jake Blunden, Alex McMillan, Isaac Vale, Brad McMillan, Mitch Hutchings, Matt Park, Kyle Bolam.
CLUB SAYS: Brad McMillan isn't the only new coach who's flying somewhat blind to start the season off.
He's hopeful about the talent he's got at his disposal, but hasn't seen a lot of the side play.
Nonetheless, he thinks there's more than enough talent across the park for the Golden Eagles to not only be a strong side in 2021, but to push for a premiership.
"The goal for me is to win ... that's how I'm looking at it," McMillan said
"In country rugby league, blokes want to keep turning up and playing for winning sides. Obviously the last few years have been a bit slim, but I'm pretty impressed with what I've seen at training so far.
"We're getting between 20-30 blokes, and it's nice to have those numbers in a small community."
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ged Herbert has made the move from the centres to fullback, and the skipper is confident about what he can bring to the table this season.
2019 FINISH: Ninth.
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Second, and a grand-final loss. This is the biggest predicted improvement on the 2019 ladder, and it's not even close. The Eagles are looking to flip the script on a losing trend they established two seasons ago, and new skipper Brad McMillan is confident they can do that. Eugowra has seen massive numbers at training, with some sessions reaching upwards of 30 players.
PEAK HILL ROOSTERS
SQUAD: Blaize Fuller, Mike Hando, Jack Read, Chad Harten, Jordan MacDougall, Jaleel Hando, Jyi Cohen, Nathan Hando, Torin Hando, Caleb Cohen, Jaylan Williams, Brady Morris, Shaun Bateson, Zac Sutherland, Brad Lawler, Thomas Bateson, Kye Jackson, Sam Compton, Josh Ohlsen, Andrew Taylor.
COACH:Blaize Fuller and Hayden Robinson
CLUB SAYS: Torin Hando bleeds Peak Hill, and that passion for the club is widespread throughout the playing roster.
That passion has translated to confidence as the veteran hooker is backing his boys to make some waves this year.
"We're all look good and looking fit ... we've had a pretty long pre-season," he said.
"We started training in the first week of January and we've had 24-25 blokes at training. So, there's a fair few guys to pick from.
"Our goal is to take out the competition. We've been up there the last couple of years, but we want to be better than that."
Like many other players, Hando is highlighting tackling as a priority: "We want to hit and stick... no big hits or shots or anything like that."
PLAYER TO WATCH: According to Hando, Hayden Robinson is an 'extremely versatile' backrower and will make an impact this season.
2019 FINISH: Sixth.
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Fourth, and a solid season all-around. The Roosters have put the wins on the board in recent years, and with the healthy roster and fitness under their belt, there's no reason they won't be there when the whips are cracking in 2021. They accrued eight wins in 2019, and we're expecting a couple more this time around.
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