IN past seasons, an air of gloom has descended on Townson Oval whenever Merewether captain Jay Strachan has been ruled out.
For so long, the presence of the power-packed fullback has been the barometer for the Greens’ chances of success. Not any more.
Strachan will miss the grudge match against fierce rivals Wanderers at home on Saturday due to a knee injury. In a further blow, in-form fly-half Sam Bright (shoulder) and scrum anchor Wendall Wilhelmus (hamstring) are also sidelined.
Strachan, although “absolutely filthy” to sit out the clash, said there were “plenty of boys putting their hand up”.
“With the knee, I’m better off resting it now than battling through for the rest of the season,” Strachan said. “I’ve got plenty of confidence that the boys will step up.”
Strachan’s confidence echoed that of co-coach Trent Considine.
“Strachanny is one of the older heads,” Considine said. “We will miss his voice at the back and the younger players feed off him, but we are not as reliant on him as in the past. We are still very confident. Our game plan hasn’t changed. Everyone knows it. We have played the same way all season.”
Former Warringah winger Dylan Smouha replaces Strachan at fullback and Will Frost, who was in the Newcastle squad, comes in at 10.
“I don’t think we will lose too much, if anything,” Considine said. “Will and Dylan are very good players.”
However, Considine has put the acid on the Greens forward pack to give the new play-makers front-foot ball.
“We need go-forward ball for them,” Considine said. “We have spent a lot of time on the set piece. We are doing things a bit differently and getting results for it.”
Merewether sit in second place on 37 points, three points behind Hamilton, but have a game in hand.
Wanderers, fourth on 33 points, welcome back centre Dan Murch (holidays) and prop Stephen Neli. Jack Young comes in at halfback.
The Two Blues lost the first encounter between the arch enemies 15-13 at No.2 Sportsgroud in the season opener and are out to make amends.
“These games always have a bit of extra spice no matter where you sit on the table,” Wanderers captain Luke Simmons said. “We have overhauled our game and are still trying to find our groove. Turnovers at a ruck and little dropped balls have hurt is. With the new system we are playing, you can’t be lacking in those one per centers.”
Elsewhere Saturday, Jack Arthur makes his first start for the season at fullback when Nelson Bay host University. Fly-half Hone Edwards returns from NSW Country under-20 duties for the Students.
Inspirational player-coach Va Talaileva comes in at blindside breakaway as Southern Beaches try to breathe life into their finals hopes against Maitland at Marcellin Park.
At Rugby Park, Singleton will be gunning for their third win of the campaign against Lake Macquarie.
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