IAN Parkinson was 20 when he played first grade for Parramatta in the Shute Shield.
But the University No.8 believes only now, after a six-month stint in the United States, that he is starting to mature as player.
NHRU ROUND 15
Nelson Bay v Maitland, Bill Strong Oval
Singleton v Hamilton, Rugby Park
Waratahs v University, Waratah Oval
Merewether v Wanderers, Townson Oval
Parkinson, 23, played for the University of Iowa, leading the Hawkeyes to the national sevens tournament.
He was back on deck in Newcastle for the Students in round nine and has since been central to their climb up the table.
‘‘I went to the US purely to study but ended up playing a bit of sevens,’’ said Parkinson, who is in the second year of a construction management degree. ‘‘We ended up making the nationals, which was a bit of fun.
‘‘I have come back a bit more mature in all senses. The team is a bit more mature as well.
‘‘It is a young dynamic for the most part, but we have a few old heads to give us direction.
‘‘It is a lot of fun and still fairly competitive.’’
After playing most of last season for University in the second row, Parkinson has been switched to the back of the scrum by new coach Tony Hogg.
‘‘He stiffens us up at No.8,’’ Hogg said. ‘‘He is a big body, hits the ball up well and defends well. He plays hard and gets in amongst it, which is what we need.’’
University are fifth, four points ahead of Southern Beaches, with four rounds to go.
‘‘We are a good chance of making the semis,’’ Parkinson said. ‘‘We just have to switch it on. We are similar to Parramatta in a way. We are fairly hot and cold. When we get our heads together we can put points on and keep points out.
‘‘That comes down to belief in ourselves. With that hopefully we will make those tackles that seem to leak points against the bigger teams.’’
It is a point not lost on Hogg.
The Students have just one win over teams now sitting above them on the table.
That was a 24-12 triumph over Merewether in round three. They drew 29-all with the Greens in round 11.
‘‘At the beginning of the year I ticked off teams I thought we would get away with,’’ Hogg said. ‘‘So far we have done that. The next challenge is to beat the teams above us.
‘‘A lot of that comes from self-belief. They are starting to believe they can match it with them. Our front row has been amazing. They are smaller than most front rows, but our scrum has been strong.
‘‘Darcy Barker goes all day.
‘‘Having Mark O’Brien has stiffened us up. James Wilkinson in the backs.’’
Next for Uni are the third-placed Tahs at Waratah Oval.
‘‘We just have to keep chipping away,’’ Hogg said. ‘‘The Tahs will be another hard task. We stuck with them in the first round and just did some silly things which cost us the game.’’
University then have a bye before rounding out the season against Southern Beaches (away) and Singleton (home).
‘‘We are just trying to get in the semis,’’ Hogg said. ‘‘If we do, it is anyone’s go.’’
‘Sticks’ moves up to NRC big time with Rays
FORMER Hamilton second-rower Nick Palmer has been signed by the North Harbour Rays for the National Rugby Championships.
Affectionately known as ‘‘Sticks’’, Palmer has spent the past two years at Norths.
After a maiden campaign hindered by glandular fever, the former St Joseph’s College student has developed into one of Norths’ key figures with his work in the lineout and in tight.
NSW Country Eagles coach Darren Coleman, the older brother of Hamilton mentor Scott, also had his sights on the 23-year-old.
■ Hunter Junior Rugby Union’s Boot Out Breast Cancer round is expected to raise more than $10,000.
In its second year, the promotion involved all 11 junior clubs, with many teams sporting pink socks and specially designed playing jumpers.
‘‘The rugby community really got behind it,’’ juniors president Greg Sellers said.
‘‘We are on track to raise more than $10,000 which will go to the Hunter Breast Cancer Foundation to support services in the region.’’
■ Former Wallaroo Margaret Watson is a finalist for the Australian Rugby Union community coach of the year award.
Watson, a teacher, is in her first season at the helm of the Merewether under-14 boys side.
‘‘She brings a different level of skill and expertise,’’ Greens junior president Simon Charters said.
A film crew will be at Greens training on Thursday to get footage of Watson, who is one of five finalists, in action.
The winner will be named at the John Eales Medal on August 27 and receive a cash grant for their club and a visit from Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika.
■ Former Wanderers back-rower Marcus Christensen is headed to Spain.
The 2014 premiership winner played this season in Belgium at Dendermonde and is back home for a short break before taking up a contract near San Sebastian.
■ Mika Iopa made an impressive return from suspension for Southern Beaches but will spend at least another week in second grade.
‘‘He will need a little bit more time,’’ new Beaches coach Johan Lourens said. ‘‘The boys have to know they everyone has to work their way back. There are no walk-up starts.’’
Eagles tilt could lead to bigger program
NEWCASTLE Barbarians could be expanded into a fully fledged development program.
Coach Scott Coleman and his selection panel are in the process of putting the framework together to assemble a squad for a clash against the NSW Country Eagles development squad, which is the main curtain raiser to the National Rugby Championship match at No.2 Sportsground on September 24.
The Eagles will be a mix of shadow and emerging players.
To ensure the Barbarians are competitive, Coleman is likely to draft in up to six out-of-region players.
Initially, the Barbarians were to play one game and three training sessions. But NHRU general manager Andy Fairfull is in discussion with other NRC franchises about potential games against their feeder teams.
‘‘It depends how this game goes,’’ Fairfull said.
‘‘We are in a couple of conversations with other teams who want games.
‘‘We wont be naive about it. We want to be really sure the level that Newcastle is at.
‘‘We want to understand how many Shute Shield guys we need to make it competitive.
‘‘We want a co-ordinated approach. If we send a side around the country, we know why and how we do it.’’
After missing out on an NRC game in the inaugural season, Newcastle will be a host venue for the next three years, starting with the Eagles clash against arch rival Queensland Country.
‘‘We have signed a three-year understanding,’’ Fairfull said.
The commitment follows a formal affiliation between the Eagles and NSW Country Rugby Union last week.
‘‘There is now a pathway there for us to attempt to get as many Newcastle and Hunter players into the development squad and NRC side,’’ Fairfull said.
‘‘We understand there is a call for Newcastle to have its own NRC side.
‘‘At the moment we have a clear pathway. We need to support that and go very hard at that.
‘‘That is immediate where as an NRC side of our own is a few years away, if at all.’’