Club rugby is back. Jim Tucker takes a look at some opening-round themes in Queensland Premier Rugby and just who will be trying to hog the early spotlight now Stan Sports will broadcast unprecedented coverage.
VETERAN prop Fred Burke will celebrate his 100th first-grade game when the major shake-up at GPS gets road-tested on the opening day of the Brisbane club season.
Eight-season stalwarts like Burke, 31, are becoming rarer but his passionate message about club rugby values will never be out of date.
GPS will open with new coach Shane Arnold and a rediscovered energy against Souths at Ashgrove when the AllSports Physiotherapy Hospital Challenge Cup kicks off on Saturday.
Being knocked out by first-time finalists Bond University in last October’s minor semi-final was a chastening jolt.
“We lost our way in 2020. The enjoyment and GPS culture are back and that can make all the difference in club rugby because it can turn into a snowball,” Burke said.
“Shane will have a bit of a yell and scream and I like that in a gun rugby coach.”
Adding centre Chris Kuridrani and hooker Matt Mafi, both former Queensland Reds, to the club’s depth is a positive.
Burke was already in his mid-20s when he landed at GPS from Christchurch but has made the club his home.
“Playing at GPS has been a really big part of my life and this 100th game will be pretty cool at home in front of a boisterous crowd,” he said.
Burke is scrummaging at a light and fit 108kg, rather than the bulked up 124kg he was a few seasons ago, to keep pushing his body.
“I’m running out of knee cartilage so playing lighter is easier on the joints and I can get through a game better carrying less weight,” Burke said.
Sharing in GPS’ drought-breaking 2018 premiership is a standout high but all tighthead props have their own slant on less obvious highs.
“I just really enjoy scrummaging. There’s nothing in life like it...and a pushover try is just the best,” Burke said.
With Stan Sports providing unprecedented live coverage of Saturday’s four games, Burke was asked which teammate would make a special effort to play to the TV.
“It’s got to be a back, right? Our centre Maaloga Konelio is a genuine showpony with his demeanour,” Burke said with a laugh.
CLASSY halfback Phoenix Hunt was switched from Easts to make the No.9 jersey his own at Brothers.
It will be a tough one first-up against University of Queensland in the traditional rivalry match at St Lucia.
The Brethen are determined to make a mark on 2021 after the 2019 grand finalists fizzled last year without even making the finals.
Losing the mature generalship of Rohan Saifoloi, who has been wooed by Easts in Sydney, has thrown the No.10 duties at Lawson Creighton and Paddy James.
For captain and prop Tom Moloney, last year’s poor result definitely spurred him into another season.
“There’s no way I wanted to finish up on last year’s result. The shortened club season in 2020 also contributed to wanting to go around again,” Maloney said.
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“Having a new coach (Brendan Gabbett) has brought a new energy to the team which is going to be a positive.”
Moloney applauded Stan Sports’ commitment to broadcast club rugby and just who it might highlight in his side.
“Look, a bloke like Paddy James is going to be getting a new short, back and sides every Friday afternoon just for the TV game,” Moloney said.
“We’ve heard about rugby’s tribulations for a few years but the product at club level has been strong and supporters turn out rain, hail or shine.
“The new TV coverage is going to be a good advertisement for the club game.”
NEW HALVES PAIRING AT NORTHS
Battlers Norths have united Liam Prendergast and Jacob Prideaux in the halves for Saturday’s visit to play Bond University on the Gold Coast.
Winger and captain Jordan Luke is hopeful the pre-season work on fitness and defence pays off under experienced new head coach Pat Byron.
“Pat has a fresh vision but he’s a trusted face having been at the club last year,” Luke said.
“That extra work on fitness and defence will help us play with more freedom with the footy which is what we want to do.”
Kiwi prop recruit Paulo Lelesiuao, who played for Manawatu, will help steady the scrum while the return of outside back Conor Chittenden, who played with West Harbour in the Shute Shield last year, adds backline class.
“We used the nickname ‘Fox Sports’ for Conor for a while when he made a TV appearance on the highlights one year so we’ll have to go with ‘Stan Sports’ now because he’s a white-boots-only guy who enjoys any air time,” Luke said.
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PREMIERS Easts have installed Jack Frampton at flyhalf following the retirement of Aidan Toua after the recent Australian Club Championship triumph.
The Tigers will host Sunnybank at Bottomley Park.
“We had a great season last year. There’s got to be an acknowledgement of that but this year is this year,” Easts skipper Tom Milosevic said.
“We’ll keep good things in place from 2020 but we also have to up our effort in other areas of we’ll come unstuck.
“We have two good Colts ready to make an impact this year in (backrower) Alex Smit and (hooker) Zac Crothers so the team keeps developing.”
Losing the likes of tighthead prop Rhys van Nek and now-retired former Wallabies captain Ben Mowen does erode the pack but confidence has never been higher at Tiger-town.
Milosevic was quick to name his pick for camera-hog when Stan Sports’ coverage starts rolling.
“Shea Lalagavesi is the fresh haircut-pink boots guy in our team and he’s already spoken about going more high vis. He loves the cameras,” Milosevic said.
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