NORTHERN PRIDE v SUNSHINE COAST FALCONS
Barlow Park on Sunday, May 2 - 2pm
Head-to-Head: Pride 7 Sunshine Coast 6
Referee: Clayton Sharpe
An early season cyclone blew their planned Round 2 match off the schedule – but the Northern Pride and Sunshine Coast Falcons are hoping to use this game to continue to build on the foundations they have worked hard to establish early this season.
Being played in this weekend’s designated representative bye weekend; both teams will be without a number of their stars for this “catch-up” match – with the Pride (four players – Hezron Murgha, Javid Bowen, Ben Spina and Patrick Kaufusi) and the Falcons (two players – Ben Hampton and Kenny Bromwich) – strongly represented in this year’s XXXX Queensland Residents team.
However, given the strength of rugby league in each of these two regions and both clubs’ solid relationship with their NRL affiliates, the depth is there to ensure that this will be another top quality game.
While the both coaches were keen not to make excuses for their poor early season form – it seems likely that the lack of match practice caused by this Round 2 postponement (due to Cyclone Nathan) told on the two sides, with the Pride especially taking their time to warm back into the weekly grind.
In the past few weeks however, the defending national champions have found their formidable rhythm and have won three matches in a row, the last two by quite healthy margins.
The Sunshine Coast have also found some form – winning back-to-back matches for the first time since 2013 with their breakthrough 36-10 result over the PNG Hunters in Round 5 and a 28-24 victory over Tweed Heads in Round 6.
They were brought back to earth somewhat in Round 7 by Wynnum Manly in their match at Pinklands, but have since had a week off with a bye to think about how they will tackle their next opponents – a rejuvenated Pride.
With key forwards Spina and Kaufusi in action in the representative match, it has given experienced prop Alex Starmer the opportunity to rejoin the Pride side for this weekend’s match.
A key part of the Pride team on and off the field, he suffered a serious hamstring injury in Round 22 last year, and tried to make a comeback against the Blackhawks in a pre-season trial, but suffered a recurrence.
In the past two weeks, he has played for Mareeba in the Cairns and District Rugby League and impressed in his return, with coach Joe O’Callaghan granting him a call-up.
The Falcons too have also had a key clubman return to the field for them, with 2014 skipper Ryan Hansen returning from injury in their Round 7 loss.
Hansen sustained a leg injury in the Falcons trial loss to the Burleigh Bears in February this year, but has fought hard to regain his place in a side that this season has been boosted by the inclusion of players from the Melbourne Storm.
With both sides currently sitting on six points – a win here won’t see them enter the top six, however, it will keep them within touching distance of those leading a congested competition ladder which is currently headed by the Blackhawks.
Northern Pride: 1. Linc Port 2. Bradley Stephens 3. Luke George 4. Dean McGilvray 5. Semi Tadulala 6. Ryan Ghietti 7. Sam Obst 8. Jack Svendsen 9. Jason Roos (c) 10. Sheldon Powe-Hobbs 11. Vaipuna Tia Kilifi 12. Graham Clark 13. Tom Hancock 14. Cameron King 15. Brent Oosen 16. Alex Starmer 17. David Murphy 18. Reegan Verney
Coach: Joe O'Callaghan
Sunshine Coast Falcons: 1. Sam Young 2. Callum Klein 3. Hymel Hunt 4. Travis Robinson 5. Young Tonumaipea 6. Billy Kitt 7. Brett Doherty 8. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs 9. Billy Brittain 10. Ryan Hansen (c) 11. Rueben Baillie 12. Jake Samoa (c) 13. Johnny Vuetibau 14. Jay Lobwein 15. James Ackerman 16. Jon Platt 17. Jordan Ryan 18. Jye Ballinger
Coach: Glen Dreger