CSU NSW Country Eagles coach Darren Coleman has named a near full strength line-up for this weekend’s must win clash against the North Harbour Rays in Bathurst.
Needing a win, most likely with a bonus point, to keep their finals chances alive, Coleman has recalled stars Sam Lousi and Will Miller from injury, with both players set to return from the bench.
Prop Dashville Kuate also returns to the Eagles starting side.
If NSW Country can claim a bonus point victory over the Rays on Saturday, they’ll book a spot in the final if the Sydney Stars beat the Melbourne Rising, or if the Melbourne Rising beat the Sydney Stars and the Stars fail to claim a bonus point.
MACQUARIE UNI North Harbour Rays Head Coach Geoff Townsend, meanwhile, won’t be drawn into the playoff machinations as he prepares his side for their Week Nine Buildcorp National Rugby Championship match against the NSW Country Eagles in Bathurst.
Rays selectors have gone with the same run-on side that defeated Queensland Country with such style at Pittwater Rugby Park last weekend but as Townsend said playoffs are the last thing on his or the team’s mind.
“It’s more a mathematical chance than anything so our attitude this week has been to keep our standards up where we know they should be and then see what happens,” Townsend said.
“We want to finish off our time together with a smile on our faces. If that sees us alive for another week, then well and good but there’s no point in us talking about making the playoffs until we’ve played our game.”
For the Rays to make the finals, they have to defeat the NSW Country Eagles by 44 points with a bonus point and then rely on the Sydney Stars defeating the Melbourne Rising and deny them a bonus.
That is a long odds bet in anyone’s language but the way that the Rays played last week against Queensland Country, particularly in the second half, then anything is possible.
The Rays will have to battle on this week without Dennis Pili-Gaitau, who worked so well off the bench last Saturday, as the block busting Marlins centre has had to travel back to New Zealand for family reasons.
Pili-Gaitau’s absence means that the Rays will run with a 6-2 bench with Northern Suburbs Hugh Sinclair again featuring on the bench.
He deputised for Sione Ala late in the piece last weekend when Ala’s partner went into labour on Saturday. Some hours after the game Ala was the proud father of a baby boy!
Vance Elliott has also had to cry off with a toe injury picked up not long after he got on the field last weekend against Queensland Country.
Gordon’s James Wilkinson, who is yet to turn 20, will come on to the bench if he is passed fit.
The midfield combination of Same Lane, Reece Hodge and Michael Adams gets another run together while Tom Hill keeps his starting spot on the wing.
Hamish Angus will again operate from fullback and his goal kicking will be vital to the result of the game and also whether the necessary bonus points are gathered.
“We’ve just about run out of troops,” Townsend added.
“If you’re fit and have been to training this week then you’re a strong contender for the squad this week.
“The win last weekend was well deserved and it has made doing our work this week just that little bit easier.
“We head down there on Friday, play our game on Saturday and see where we land. It’ll be fun.”
A strong crowd is expected in Bathurst for the Eagles final regular season match of 2015, with a food and wine festival and a number of curtain-raisers being held alongside the main match.
Tickets are just $15 with kids under 16 free.
CSU Country Eagles team to play North Harbour Rays:
1. Dave Faeo
2. Tom Sexton
3. Dashville Kuate
4. Nick Palmer
5. Tom Staniforth
6. Beau Robinson
7. Mark Baldwin
8. Sam Figg
9. Mitch Short
10. Jono Lance
11. Charlie Clifton
12. Dave Horwitz
13. Ed Stubbs
14. Jarome McKenzie
15. Andrew Kellaway
16. Peter Nau
17. Jerome Vaai
18. Dane Maraki
19. Sam Lousi
20. Will Miller
21. Pauli Tuala
22. Will Fay
23. Jack Pennington
North Harbour Rays team to play CSU Country Eagles:
15. Hamish Angus (Warringah)
14. Tom Hill (Eastwood)
13. Michael Adams (Warringah)
12. Reece Hodge (Manly)
11. John Porch(Northern Suburbs)
10. Sam Lane (Manly)
9. Josh Holmes (Warringah)
8. Harry Rorke (Gordon)
7. Boyd Killingworth (Warringah)
6. Harry Bergelin (Manly)
5. Ryan Melrose (Manly)
4. Ruairidh Wilson (Gordon)
3. Lawrance Hunting (Northern Suburbs)
2. Luke Holmes (captain, Warringah)
1. Mitch Lewis (Manly)
16. James Wilkinson (Gordon)
17. Rory O’Connor (Gordon)
18. Alex Holmes (Bond University) / Nick Fraser (Gordon)
19. Cameron Treloar (Warringah)
20. Mitch Daniel (Manly)
21. Hugh Sinclair (Northern Suburbs)
22. Tim Donlan (Manly)
23. Sione Ala (Gordon)