RUGGED back-rower Ben Ham has no doubts the Newcastle Wildfires will be better for their first hit out in the Shute Shield - they will need to be.
The Wildfires take on perennial powerhouse Eastwood at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday, in the first game of the premier club competition in Australia to be played in Newcastle since 1999.
In a major boost, up to 1250 spectators will be permitted after the NHRU received approval from Newcastle Council for No.2 to be classified as a major recreation facility under the current Public Health Orders regarding COVID-19.
Tickets must be purchased online. Patrons will have their temperature checked before entry, provide contact details and be required to follow strict social distancing protocols.
The Wildfires opened the campaign with a 50-7 loss to Randwick at Coogee Oval.
Ham was one of the better performers against a slick Greens outfit which feasted on the lineout and troubled the visitors with their Aussie sevens representatives causing problems on the counter attack.
"It was a lot faster than we were used to," Ham said. "Randwick were well-drilled and their counter attack was another class.
"We had only played one game against Penrith before the first round. We will get there.
"The lineouts were pretty average to start with but we started to win a few balls at the end.
"The way we defended, you get away with rushing up in our comp. At this level you need to keep the line nice and straight. That all comes back to getting used to the speed of the game and getting our combinations right."
Coach Scott Coleman will on Wednesday name a side to take on Eastwood, who finished second on the table last season but were upset 34-19 losers to Southern Districts in the opening round.
"We will be better for last week but the competition will be better as well," Ham said. "We need to do the simple things right. The more we get to know each other the better we will be. Even having a few beers after the game and developing that mateship. You want to play for each other a bit more. Every game we play we will build more as a unit. I think it will come together."
Meanwhile, the NHRU Rams Cup is in doubt after clubs raised concerns about implementing COVID-19 protocols and after safety requirements.
The modified premier and divisional competitions, which replaced the premiership seasons, are due to kick off on August 1.
"We had talks with the clubs on Monday night," NHRU general manager Andy Fairfull said. "It is not one way or the other at the moment. The issue is at grassroots level; how do they manage 500 people? How do you keep people 1.5 metres apart? Police are starting to turn up at community events.
"Financially is very difficult, but that is not the be-all and and end-all. It is more the safety issue. The clubs have given their view and now it is with the board. A decision will be made in the next day or two."