Hastings Deering Colts Round 12 preview

Exceeding their own expectations so far this season, Wynnum Manly are happy sitting in equal first place on the Hastings Deering Colts ladder, but they are anything but resting on their laurels.

One of the toughest encounters awaits them this weekend, says coach Joe O'Callaghan, who rates Round 12 opponents Townsville Blackhawks as "one of the benchmarks" of the competition.

Wynnum Manly have three of their star players unavailable this weekend due to their selection in Under 18 Queensland side, which will act as the curtain-raiser to State of Origin on Wednesday night.

The biggest challenge though, is the lost of the Seagulls fullback and captain Shannon Gardiner, who broke his hand in last weekend's 34-18 win over Norths Devils at Bishop Park.

"It's disappointing for Shannon because this is his last year in the Hastings Deering Colts competition, and he is trying to push for a debut in the Intrust Super Cup," O'Callaghan said.

"But, one positive is that it hasn't wiped out his season. He will need surgery and will be out for at least six weeks.

"To lose a player and a leader of Shannon's experience is tough, but it gives another player the chance to come in to the team. 

"The same goes for the three Origin boys. It's really rewarding to see three of our boys make the Queensland team, which is really exciting for them. We lose them for the week, but it also gives other guys in the squad their chance.

O'Callaghan said the "two-year project" for his young squad was paying dividends already.

"We had a pretty young side in 2018, so we had 12 boys from last year's semi-final that were eligible for under-20s again this year. It really has been a two-year project for this squad, and I'm really happy with how we are going. 

"There's been a lot of excitement off the back of our Mal Meninga Cup team being runners up in their competition. Put those two factors together - the stability and experience from last year, combined with the excitement from the young guys from under-18s being promoted to under-20s is making for a great season and a really strong squad.

"We went into the season wanting to be a finalist. At the half-way point, to be joint competition leaders, we have probably exceeded expectations."

To remain at the top of the ladder, the Seagulls will need to handle the physicality and toughness that is guaranteed from the third-placed Townsville Blackhawks.

"You know you're always going to get a physical and tough contest from Townsville," O'Callaghan said.

"I thought Townsville were the benchmark of the Hastings Deering Colts competition last year ... and nothing has changed this year, they are still one of the benchmarks of the competition."

Elsewhere in Round 12 of the Hastings Deering Colts, Friday night's round-opener will see eighth-placed Mackay Cutters hosting Ipswich Jets, who currently sit in 12th place on the ladder.

Easts Tigers (9th) are taking on Northern Pride (5th) at Langlands Park on Saturday afternoon. Both sides are coming off a loss and will be looking to record a win this week.

The bottom-of-the-table clash between Redcliffe Dolphins (14th) and Western Mustangs (13th) will be one to watch, as both sides try to salvage their season and move away from the bottom of the ladder.

Central Queensland Capras (11th) and Norths Devils (6th) faced the joint competition leaders in their respective games last week. Their match-up at Browne Park on Sunday promises to be a spectacular clash.

Both coming off impressive wins in Round 11, this week's clash between Tweed Heads Seagulls (7th) and Souths Logan Magpies (10th) will be crucial for both sides as they try to stay in touch with the competition leaders.

Competition leaders Burleigh Bears will head up the coast to take on fourth-placed Sunshine Coast Falcons in what may well be the match of the round. Burleigh have won 8 of their 10 games so far, and sit in equal top spot with Wynnum Manly. Sunshine Coast - with seven wins - are in joint third spot with Townsville. A win - or loss - for either side could dramatically change their position on the competition ladder.