NEW PLAYER: Sam Fogarty returns to Merewether at outside centre after a beneficial off-season with the NSW sevens program. Picture: Jonathan CarrollMerewether Carlton coach Mick Gill reckons Sam Fogarty has come back a different playerahead of the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Unionseason opener against old rivals Wanderers at No.1 Sportsground on Saturday.
Outside centre Fogartyspent the summer months with the NSW sevens program andwas the sole country-based player in the state side, which included the national championships in Adelaide in November, and Gill barely recognised him at Townson Oval in the lead up to their 2017 campaign.
“It was like we received a brand new player after that off-season with The Waratahs,” Gill said.
“Fogo had gained a yard of pace, he came backstronger, and his skillset was unbelievable. Just 100 per cent a better player.”
Fogarty will partnerskipper Jay Strachan in the centres, which Gillidentified as a key area for Merewether.
“That’s where our strength is,” Gill said.
“Both players have a licence to throw it around and I don’t want to lock them in anywhere. Rather than having to standsomewhere on the field they can go andfind their own opportunities.”
The rest of the backline has been shuffled around with Thomas Smith slotting into fly half after University recruit Will Frost injured his shoulder in a recent trial while versatile Blake Creighton could miss the year following a knee reconstruction.
The Greens forward pack is also a mixed bag –weakened without Alex Hills (Randwick) and prop WendallWilhelmus (shoulder surgery) but bolstered by flanker Billy Freeman (University) and back-rower Kent Hatchwell (return).
Butstability has been provided in drawing the Two Blues straight up according to Gill, allowing the group to gel in sight of last year’s grand finalists.
“It actually helped with our pre-season, giving us that extra motivation,” Gill said.
“Not that you need much motivation to play Wanderers …but it made those fitness sessions a bit easier.”
Wanderershave named five-eighth Luke Simmons as captain whilesecond-rower Doug McKillop (Scone),halfback Gus Locke (UK) and No.15 Josh McCormack (Maitland) all debutfor the hosts. Tom Emayel returns after two years abroad.
Elsewhere, two-time defending premiers Hamilton are at home to The Waratahs, Beaches travel to meet Maitland, Lake Macquarie tackleSingleton and University take on Nelson Bay.
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Meanwhile, the NHRU season was officially launched at Wests City on Friday with former Wallabies coach Alan Jones the guest speaker at the annual Hawthorne Club luncheon.
And the women’s competition doesn’t start until April 22 but 10 Hunter players will represent NSW Country at the Southern States Championships in Wagga Wagga on Saturday.