Following decades in the boon-docks of bush rugby union, the Mid North Coast Axemen are the newcomers of the Caldwell Cup this weekend in the NSW Country championships at Warren, yet an inferiority complex appears the least of their worries.
So says coach Angus Anderson.
In his first season as representative coach last winter, Anderson guided the Axemen into the top tier of country rugby by defeating Far North Coast in the final of the Richardson Shield in Port Macquarie last winter.
Anderson believes the Axemen have the quality to prove the toughest defensive unit in the Caldwell Cup, for all the reputations of the long-term country powerhouses, the Newcastle and Illawarra zones.
One of the players he sees as crucial to his plans is Nabiac’s Wallamba Bulls’ midfielder, James Handford.
“We have no rock stars in this group,” Anderson said.
“At this level, playing in the Caldwell Cup for the first time, we will have to be 10 out of 10 in defence to knock our rivals around.
“Handford is important in the scheme of things.
“He is a damaging ball-runner and will stiffen up our defence on the wing.
“He’s a centre, and I have given him a licence to roam, to be an opportunist. I think he can be most dynamic on the wing.
“He will have permission to range across the back-line.
“We want this Axemen’s team to be the toughest defensive unit the zone has ever fielded.
“We are not expected to win, but I want the Axemen to be flamboyant, creative, to prove the strongest side the MNC have ever fielded.
“I encourage players to take their opportunities and present themselves in the best light.
“The boys have no fear.”
Twenty-seven-year-old Handford was a stabilising force in Wallamba’s midfield at inside-centre in their premiership campaign last season so his move to the wing is an interesting decision by coach Anderson and his co-selectors, former Wallaby backs, James Holbeck and Tim Lane, the latter a premiership-winning Sydney coach with Manly.
Powerful centres being in short supply in the MNC zone, midfielders such as the Walcha centres, Ed Cordingley and Pat Keen, a NSW Country representative last year, and the co-captain of the Maitland Blacks, Chris Logan, have been recruited by the Axemen.
In another significant decision, acknowledging Daniel Hessing’s renowned work ethic and tackling ability, Anderson has nominated the veteran Wallamba flanker as his back-up hooker.
Anderson and team manager, Arthur Chapman, have decided the 25-player MNC group of players should not be accommodated in Warren’s newly-erected “Tent City”, built for 1000 male and female players from around NSW, preferring to house the Axemen in cabins in nearby Dubbo City caravan park.
The Axemen will meet Illawarra in their first game tomorrow , Saturday April 27 a team Anderson ranks highly, pointing to their forward strength and regularity of finals appearances.
With players involved in representative rugby this weekend, the fourth round of club football in the Lower Mid North Coast competition has been postponed until tomorrow week.
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