Tough draw for 2015 Central North rugby season opener

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The Gunnedah Red Devils this weekend kick off round one of the Central North Rugby Union competition against Pirates, then tackle Moree the following week but will wait more than two weeks before the club’s next clash on May 9.

The Devils are not alone either will all clubs suffering a disjointed season start due to the country week round bye on May 2.

The Devils have also called a truce for the Anzac Day clash on April 25.

“It’s not ideal but it’s unavoidable,” Devils co-coach Tim Walsh said.

“It’s to our detriment but every team is in the same boat and having the same problem (trying to get players).”

The hardest part is convincing players the importance of starting the year strong when they only play for two weeks and break for as many more, just as the season picks up momentum.

Gunnedah will be missing at least 10 players for this weekend’s season opener through “work, honeymoons, you name it”.

“It’s a challenge but we’re used to it,” Walsh said.

Red Devil Sam Maxwell sprints away from a Magpies defender during the 10-a-side tournament in Gunnedah earlier this year. Photo courtesy Sarah Hickey.

Murray O’Keefe comes into the front row for the Devils on Saturday, while DJ Morrison will slot on to the wing for his first grade debut.

Taking on the star-studded Pirates in the first round will be no mean feat either.

“They won three grand finals on the trot and have been in the semis for the last few years,” Wash said.

“They’re one of the most successful, most dominant teams in the competition.”

Devils president Stu Morrison, who is dusting off the boots in retirement for a run this weekend in reserve grade, reckoned all players would be feeling the pressure this weekend.

“These first two weeks are going to be tough,” he said.

“It will be hard work and our depth will be tested.”

The first month of the CNRU draw might take some getting used to but players can look forward to an improved structure for the second half of the season.

Related story: “Girls to brighten up the Red Devils sideline”

In a tweak to last year’s two-tier competition, teams play each other only once in the second round.

The adjustment means top clubs will be given a chance to recharge before the start of the finals series.

Also, the fifth placed team in the top tier will drop back to the bottom tier semi-finals.

This weekend the Red Devils under-16s will play the opening match at Gunnedah’s Rugby Park.

Strong training numbers in preceding weeks under the guidance of coach Dominic Shortis, has the club confident the Gunnedah young-guns will deliver a good display this weekend.

“This time last year we were struggling (for 16s players),” Morrison said.

“They’ve really turned that this year.”

The 16s start 12.30pm on Saturday, followed by reserve grade at 1.45pm and first grade at 3.15pm.

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