Koalas think big
By LUIS FELIU
SOUTH Tweed Koalas hope a number of strong signings will allow them to climb to new heights in the inaugural combined Northern Rivers competition next year.
The Koalas have also retained many of their top players across all grades to form the backbone of the club's attack on the newly combined Group 1/18 competition, kicking off in the first week of April.
Big forward Brock Mathers, 27, a former NSW Country and North Coast representative who played for New York rugby league team last year, will be the new captain-coach of the first-grade team.
Mathers, who previously played for Runaway Bay, will be joined by his older brother Ben, a front-rower, in the revamped team.
Two former Forster players, Geoff Boylen, a fullback/centre, and Dave Monkley, a half-back/five-eighth, will also add strength to the Koalas backline.
The club has also secured its speedy regular first-grade winger Ricky Moana and is hoping to again snare backline brothers Gene and Doug Slockee.
Club president Bob Loring said talks were also under way to secure the services of two burly Tongan front-rowers and other players from Runaway Bay who want to play in what is seen as a much stronger competition than the South-East Queensland-based Mixwell Cup. Regular first-grade players returning to Koalas include brothers Cane and Dylan Stannard and Bruce and Warren Bright, as well as forward Tom Burnes and lock Chris Humphries, who in his first year with the club two years ago won the player of the year award.
"We also hope to have last year's under-18s group player of the year Lee Hicks back with us," Loring said.
Last year's under-18s coach Gareth Tomlinson, who took his charges to the grand final only to see them pipped for honours by Seagulls, is back at the under-18s helm and hoping to go one better in the new competition.
Three of the Koalas' grand-final-winning under-16s team last year, Matt Nuttal, Ben Teitzel and Tom Elliott are set to make their mark when they step up a level to the under-18s which will include former under- 18s front rower Luke Fraser. All four are in the North Coast development squad.
Tom Freeman and Tim Leary have also returned to under-18s.
Koalas stalwart Shane Wilson has been named as the reserves new captain-coach.
"I think we'll go pretty well. We've bought well with the big Mathers brothers and hopefully the two Tongans who, with the local kids, should give us a fairly strong side," Loring said.
Pre-season training, he said, had already started (6.30pm on Thursdays at Dave Burns Field and from 10am on Sundays at Greenmount Beach). New players are welcome.