Wallabys keen to retain league crown

By CRAIG ROSScraigr@gladstoneobserver.com.au

AFTER enjoying the spoils of twin A grade rugby league premiership victories for the past six months, Wallabys start from scratch again this weekend as eight other teams look to knock them off their pedestal.

After a glut of premierships by Rockhampton clubs, Gladstone rugby league received a boost when Wallabys took the top prize last year, adding the local title for good measure.

However, it remains to be seen if Wallabys can repeat their Extended League success with every other team likely to judge themselves by how they deal with 2004's top dogs.

Of the Gladstone District Rugby League clubs, last year's battlers Tannum Sands and Valleys will boast new look lineups under respective coaches Aaron Earnshaw and Graham Appo.

Valleys' stocks have been boosted by the return of Aaron Earnshaw, Neil Smith and Mick Richards who have carved out excellent Extended League careers while former Toowoomba back-rower Travis Ribot has been in sensational trial form.

Tannum boast plenty of A grade experience in backs Steve Surtees and Ashley Jenkinson while prop forwards Brendan Rae and Adam Marxsen and lock Luke Clow are proven workers up front.

Both sides are still searching for rhythm coming into this weekend's opening round of competition but will be confident of getting stronger as the season progresses, provided injuries are kept to a minimum.

Wallabys and Gladstone showed enough during the trial matches to suggest they should again be among the competition heavyweights.

With little player turnover, both teams boast a formidable look with plenty of pace in the backs, strength up front and experience across the park.

Wallabys utility Garry Brown starred in the halfback role during the trials while fullback Ron Craig appears primed for another big year. Up front, Aaron Farrar and Matt Rogers and Ray Kaestner were strong during the trials and appear hungry to set the platform needed for Wallabys' classy backline to shine.

Gladstone Brothers boast plenty of options in the halves with Ben Platt, Clint Docherty and Will Jarvis among the best playmakers in the competition and with pointscoring whiz James Radloff at fullback, all that's needed for them to unleash is a willing pack going forward.

Although not boasting the size of some packs in the competition, the Brethren engine room has plenty of pace and strength with Chris Johnson, Ben Bultreys, Dave Ahern, Clint Doherty and Russell Groth providing the muscle.

While last year's wooden-spooners Biloela have had strong pre-season trial form and are looking to lift their standing in 2005. Skipper Paul Pyziakos always leads from the front and with exciting recruits Jason Horne and Darren Fisher settling in well, the Panthers could be the surprise packets of 2005.

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