SCOTT Coleman remembers having to almost beg players to participate in the Newcastle representative program in past years.
On Saturday, Coleman will have 40 players involved in a possibles versus probables match and another five lining up against the Western Force in a game of Global Rapid Rugby (GRR) at No.2 Sportsground.
Coleman returned to the helm of the Newcastle Wildfires this year with the aim of restoring pride in the jumper and attracting the best players to participate.
He helped overhaul the program, ensuring the majority of games were at home, with the added incentive of a tour to Argentina in September.
Although not all of the region's premier players have committed, Coleman has been happy with the response.
"We have averaged 35 to 40 players at every training session," Coleman said. "That has been unheard of in the past. The tour has been a big carrot. The players have also told me that they love the fact we are playing most of our games at home. They get to train and be around the best players in Newcastle and they are up-skilling themselves to take back to their clubs."
Marlon Solufuti, Brendan Holliday (Lake Macquarie), Chris Ale (Hamilton), Ben Ham (Wanderers) and Merewether recruit Nick Dobson will feature in a Newcastle side bolstered by players from Sydney to take on the Force.
That match, which kicks off at 4.30pm, is being played under GRR rules, which has less stoppages, less kicking and more running rugby.
Due to the pace of the game, Newcastle will use rolling subs and Coleman will also select three players from the trial to sit on the bench.
The Newcastle-Force game is the culmination of a festival of rugby, starting at 11am with under-17 girls sevens. Cost is just $5 for people over 16.
"We wanted to make it an event and draw as many people as possible," Coleman said. "Hopefully they all hang around. It will be a good day."