Group 7 Rugby League season kicks off in April

DEFENDING PREMIERS: Gerringong Lions players celebrating back-to-back first grade Group 7 premierships last year.

DEFENDING PREMIERS: Gerringong Lions players celebrating back-to-back first grade Group 7 premierships last year.

HAVING won back-to-back Group 7 Rugby League first grade titles, a new-look Gerringong will appear in 2017. 

Coach Mick Cronin said the Lions would be without a number of players who formed an integral part of their recent golden era. 

Veteran fullback/goal-kicker Joel Roberts has retired, while five-eighth Pat Cronin has moved interstate and brother Pete won’t be returning. 

Taylor Hudson has also retired. Other losses include Lloyd Bowen and Steve Evans. 

Cronin said skipper Brad Davidson was also doubtful to return. 

Nathan Ford and Kal Collins (Illawarra squad for the Intrust Super Premiership NSW competition) and Jackson Ford (St George Illawarra Dragons’ under-20s squad) could play for the Lions at various points throughout the season if not chosen in their respective teams. 

“We’ve had a very good run, and now some other blokes will get an opportunity,” the coach said.

“We’ve got a few young blokes… It’s a bit of an unknown who will be in the team in round one. 

“I like to think we’ll be competitive, but it’s pretty unknown.”

The Lions will begin their season with an away fixture against Berry-Shoalhaven Heads on Saturday, April 1. 

Meanwhile, the Kiama Knights will feature a revamped forward pack in 2017.

The Knights finished fifth in the regular season and were eliminated in the first weekend of the semi-finals. 

They will be minus forwards Luke Sutton, Luke Muttdon, Vaughan Thistlethwaite and Matt Clarke this year. 

However, coach Matt O’Brien said there were plenty of encouraging signs for the club, including the bulk of last year’s premiership-winning under-18s side remaining at the Knights and now coming into grade. 

Former Gerringong and Jamberoo league junior Ethan Ford will also switch codes from rugby union to play for Kiama this season.

Former Gerringong and Jamberoo league junior Ethan Ford will also switch codes from rugby union to play for Kiama this season.

O’Brien said the club hoped to have young fullback/winger Dylan Morris available when not required for the Dragons’ National Youth Competition side. 

The likes of Travis Poole and Oliver Powell return following a few years’ break.

Former Gerringong and Jamberoo league junior Ethan Ford will also switch codes from rugby union, and is expected to play in the centres. 

“It would be nice to score a few more points, and play with a bit more freedom this year,” O’Brien said.

“We’ve also learnt that if you finish fourth or fifth it’s pretty tough… To have a real chance at winning the comp it’s much better to finish in the top three.”

Kiama will kick off their 2017 campaign with what is sure to be a spirited local derby against Jamberoo on April 1 at Kiama Showground. 

Jamberoo captain/coach Jono Dallas.

Jamberoo captain/coach Jono Dallas.

Jamberoo will be looking to build upon a strong showing in 2016.

The Superoos finished in second place at the end of the regular season, but were bundled out of the semi-finals in straight sets.

Captain/coach and long-time halfback Jono Dallas said a key focus would be learning from those experiences. 

“We’ve got to take lessons from the way we handle the big games,” he said.

“We were in both games; lost one by one point and the other by two points. 

“So we’re just trying to build on last year, rather than do anything drastically different.”

Jamberoo have lost some experienced players, but also made key acquisitions. 

Matt Coelho, Josh Saunders and Luke Gilmore have all retired, while Joe Roqoko has returned to Sydney.

However, the Superoos have a wealth of play-making options at their disposal.

Aside from Dallas, the club has also recruited Warilla halfback Josh Kent, and will be bolstered by pivot Mark Asquith being available for the whole season. 

Other gains include centre Jake Clarke (Moruya) and Brendan Smith (Corrimal). 

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