New Bathurst Bulldogs mentor Mick Leseberg wasted no time before firing the first shot of the Blowes Clothing Cup season, branding defending premiers Orange Emus 'tip turkeys' ahead of Saturday's round one grudge match.
With a rivalry between the two sides already befitting of Russel Crowe's infamous Book of Feuds it's hardly a fire that requires fueling, although the comment was made in jest by a coach returning to the Central West for the first time in a decade.
"Yeah, I remember the Shelbyville tip turkeys," he laughed, remembering the rivalry well.
That was last reignited in the 2020 semi-final at Wade Park, a knockout clash Emus won by six points on their way to an undefeated premiership victory, their fourth grand final win from seven consecutive deciders they've contested.
Hopefully we're ready to play them and if we're not now, five minutes before we run on we definitely and certainly will be.Bulldogs coach Mick Leseberg
The greens have largely had the better of the two sides' encounters in recent seasons, aside from 2019 when Bulldogs flipped the script in both the major semi-final and decider.
But that matters little to Leseberg.
He wasn't there to witness those battles, after all, and has no pre-conceived notions in focusing purely on what lies ahead at Ashwood Park on Saturday evening.
He took none into the pre-season either, he's had to learn about his squad from pre-season training and a pair of trials against Warringah and Merewether-Carlton.
"I haven't been around the club for 10 years, this is my comeback season, so I know the faces that have been coming to pre-season, that's all I've got," he said.
"We're pretty comfortable with what we have, we think there's a good side in there. Obviously it's the beginning of the season and there's a lot to work on, but we think we've got some good talent.
"Hopefully we're ready to play them and if we're not now, five minutes before we run on we definitely and certainly will be. We'll have to see what happens, but the boys will be switched on."
On the flip side, Emus retained the bulk of their premiership-winning squad.
The greens have lost props Nas Havealeta and Archie Hall along with halfback Sam Green and five-eighth Carter Hirini, but have replaced them with some serious cattle nonetheless.
Multiple title-winning props Steve Fergus and Michael Graham will start in the front-row, while NSW Country halfback Shahid Khalfan will wear the No.9 jersey.
The latter's younger brother Jamil will play five-eighth this weekend, ahead of former Melbourne Rebels playmaker Angus Roberts' debut for the club. The former Super Rugby ace is a confirmed starter for the 2021 season.
But, as Leseberg pointed out, the 2021 season is a long one, the calendar returns to a 15-week regular season after last year's condensed, 10-game year.
"At this point in time we don't know who they've got, who they've lost. We've had discussions about what they've done previously but we've just got to go forward with what we're confident in doing," he said.
"If we have to make adjustments we will, if we don't have to we won't. We're not playing in the World Cup you know, so we've just got to stick to what we do best and if we do that, we shouldn't have a problem.
"We have plenty of time to work on it and figure it out, but we'll turn up and give them a show."
Saturday's season-opener kicks off at 4.45pm, a twilight game with the Westfund Ferguson Cup women's clash to follow under lights at Ashwood Park.
- ORANGE EMUS: 1 Steve Fergus, 2 Charlie Henley (c), 3 Michael Graham, 4 Nick Hughes-Clapp, 5 Simon Badgery, 6 Jack Marchinton, 7 Sam Greatbatch, 8 Scott McLean, 9 Shahid Khalfan, 10 Jamil Khalfan, 11 Tom Joseph, 12 Lachie Harris, 13 Nigel Staniforth (c), 14 Harry Cummins, 15 Louis Carr
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