IT has been almost a decade since Marlon Solofuti last started a game in the Shute Shield, but Hunter Wildfires coach Scott Coleman has no doubts that veteran back-rower will bring a hard edge to his inexperienced outfit.
After playing two games off the bench, Solofuti comes in at No.8 for Ben Ham against Northern Suburbs at North Sydney Oval on Saturday.
Ham has been one of the Wildfires' best but has been unable to train this week due to work commitments and drops to the bench.
Solofuti, 39, played for Manly in 2010 before heading to France where he spent six years playing professionally. He moved to Newcastle in 2017 and linked with Southern Beaches and then Lake Macquarie.
"Marlon has been fantastic from the outset and I expect him to help set the tone in the opening 20 minutes," Coleman said. "Marlon and Hammy are totally different players. Hammy is a bit of an everywhere man and has been playing some good footy.
"Marlon is more dynamic and is definitely just as tough. The instructions to him will be to go as hard as he can for as long as he can. He is a real competitor and someone the rest of the team can follow."
Solofuti had scaled back his rugby since arriving in Newcastle.
But the Wildfires' inclusion in the Sydney competition sparked a fire and he has been one of the leaders in the squad.
"He hasn't missed a training session and has been a good role model for the young ones," Coleman said. "He does every drill at 100 per cent, is very switched on and has a lot of wisdom."
Solofuti is the only change to the side which fought out a confidence-boosting 29-all draw with Manly.
Melbourne duo George Osi Noa (breakaway) and Jeremy Burrill (lock) will again start in second grade.
"Jeremy got players' player and three points in seconds last week and George was also very good," Coleman said. "They need more footy. They will play seconds again and back up on the bench in firsts."
Coleman said they took a lot of confidence from the draw against Manly.
"We stayed in the contest and took our chances," Coleman said. "Manly made a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes. They kicked poorly and knocked on a lot of times. We put a lot of pressure on them and our defence was good. We still missed a lot of one-on-one tackles but our spacing and line speed was really good."
Norths, who are led by former Hamilton lock Nick Palmer, are undefeated and fresh from the bye.
"They are very strong," Coleman said. "They play a more open style and rely on a lot of quick ball."
Wildfires: 1 Dave Puchert, 2 Steve Lamont, 3 Nick Dobson, 4 Adam Edwards (c), 5 Seva Rokobaro, 6 Piers Morrell, 7 Shawn Ingle, 8 Marlon Solofuti, 9 Mahe Fangupo, 10 Michael Moloney, 11 Rob Buserau, 12 Angus Brown, 13 Hayden Cole, 14 Nimi Qio, 15 Chad Northcott
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