Three-peat a focus for Country
A NSW Country side loaded with Far North Coast athletes is gunning for a third consecutive win in the Trans Tasman Surf Life Saving Series in New Zealand.
FNC athletes make up the nucleus of the 20-strong NSW Country side, with 11 athletes from the Cudgen Headland, Cabarita and Byron Bay clubs to contest the three-meet biennial series against surf athletes from the Central Coast and Northern Region (New Zealand).
NSW Country has a great record across the ditch and assistant coach Scott McCartney said the side were gunning for another title against some of the state's and world's best.
Despite their recent dominance, McCartney expects a rapidly improving New Zealand to close the gap on Country and the Central Coast in what he expected to be a tightly contested series.
"We've never lost in New Zealand so this one means a lot to us and we'll be going over there firing,” McCartney said.
"Central Coast has been really strong and we've always been head to head but over the years New Zealand has really improved.
"It'll definitely be a three-headed race and it's all about who can put it all together on the day.”
The Country team is loaded with talent and has been a breeding ground for competitors moving into the elite ironman and ironwoman ranks with the likes of four-time Coolangatta Gold winner Ali Day and two-time women's winner Courtney Hancock representing the side.
Carrying on that tradition is a team featuring talented Cudgen Headland young guns Anthea Warne and Luke Chaffer, who have been in impressive form this season.
Warne, 15, is coming off a trifecta of wins at the Yamba Ocean Swim last weekend while Chaffer will represent NSW in the State Series on the Sunshine Coast after returning from the tri-series.
While traditionally strong in water-based events, a key to Country's success will be their results in beach events.
Bolstered by Cabarita speed queen Claudia Crawford and Byron's Brad Hunt in flag and sprint races, McCartney believes it's out of the water where Country could look to assert their power.
"In the past water has been our strength but we're really confident beach athletes like Claudia and Brad can really strengthen our beach side as well,” McCartney said.
"They've (beach team) never let us down but I think it's the best it's ever been.”
The team jetted into New Zealand on Thursday to prepare for the competition which began at North Island destination Waipu yesterday.
A key to the side's preparation will be getting a good feel for New Zealand's conditions, which are a significantly different from Australia's summer climate and beaches.
McCartney said the last Country side to compete in New Zealand found the temperatures in and out of the water hard to get a grip on, but the 2017s side was determined to eliminate any environmental factors.
"We'll get there early and train so hopefully we'll be ready and prepared for anything that might pop up,” he said.
Despite the gruelling schedule, McCartney said the side was fit and talented enough to cope.
"It's a pretty compact schedule but they're young and fit so they'll definitely be able to handle it,” he said.
"Multiple days of competition is nothing new for these elite competitors.”
The series moves on to Pakapuna on January 9, before culminating at Omaha Beach on January 10.