In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic came close to stopping the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League (NRRRL) from holding its competitions and, as a result, the Lower Clarence Magpies didn’t field first grade, reserve grade and U18 teams in the shortened season.
This year, head coach Carl Press says his “main aim is to get competitive teams on the park”.
“We made a decision to [withdraw] because I only had a young team … and I didn’t see any benefit in playing in that comp with the way it was structured – player safety was a concern,” says Press.
He said that the club has around 60 players “on the books” with up to 42 turning up for pre-season training sessions.
“We’ve probably got about 20 to 25 players at this stage who are at first grade level,” he said.
“There are a lot [of players] indicating they want to play reserve grade; older guys in their mid 40s who want to keep going and keep the club alive.
“They know there’s a young A grade team and they don’t want them playing reserve grade and [then backing up in] first grade.”
The Yamba-based club has secured a trial match against Port City Breakers, which will christen the new million-dollar clubhouse and upgraded field, to be played on March 27.
“We’ll then possibly have another trial game and then, two weeks after that, our comp kicks off,” Press said.
“The Magpies are in a new era.
“I came here two years ago and saw what they had.
“Just with the coaching staff we’ve got here now; we’ve got Paul Donkin who’s come on board: he was with the NRL and Parramatta for quite a long time.
“And there’s Chris Kirkland, who is coaching the U18s – Chris has been involved out west with the Western Academy and he understands the structure I’ve come off.
“I spent seven years with the Greater Northern Region Academy; up there with Peter Stevens, Scott Bones, Chris Brennan and Gary Gardiner, who have all been captain coaches in the past and won grand finals at A grade level – we were a part of that coaching staff that has taken Greater Northern Tigers to U16 and U18 championships, year after year.”
Press sees this as a significant factor, in relation to the Magpies’ ‘new era’, and an opportunity for young players to get the best coaching they can expect.
“We’re bringing that knowledge down to here and we want to teach that knowledge to the local area and to [have them] understand that the Magpies have great coaching staff on hand for anyone who wants to learn how to play rugby league,” he said.
“Now we’ve got a million dollar [clubhouse] and it’s probably one of the best in the bush – and great dressing sheds.
“All we want to do is play football, make this club better competitively and have a successful year.”