Inverell Highlanders 2017 season kicks off at Rugby Park | Round 1 draw, fixtures, results

SEASON KICK OFF: Hunter Barnett warms up at Rugby Park in Inverell on Tuesday. Photo: SIMON McCARTHY.

SEASON KICK OFF: Hunter Barnett warms up at Rugby Park in Inverell on Tuesday. Photo: SIMON McCARTHY.

The match: Magpies’ wings clipped in Highlander blitz

The Inverell Highlanders romped home with a resounding 48-12 victory over the Tamworth Magpies in the first round of Central North Rugby Union at the weekend.

Playing club president, Josh Phillips said the side's offseason training paid off on Saturday at Rugby Park.

"Everyone played well," he said. The home side raced to an early lead, closing the first half at 23-7. 

It was a red letter day for No. 15 Highlander Dylan Lewis, who collected three successfully converted tries, and a best and fairest point.

Try scorers Ilaitia Natavcu, Siaka Maea, and Trent Hoscher bumped the Highlander's tally, supplemented by points from Phillips and team captain Scott Houston.

Maea collected three best and fairest points.

The reserves conceded a tough defeat on the day, going down 22-13. But the loss could not dampen spirits.

Local shearer Rob Hamel collected three referee points in his first run on the field and Josh Stewart made his first grade debut after he was named club captain last week. The Highlanders take on Scone in an away game in round two.

Highlanders put experience to the fore in new season

LINE-UP: Scott Houston, Hunter Barnett and Black Whitechurch are ready for this year's rugby season. Photo: SIMON McCARTHY

LINE-UP: Scott Houston, Hunter Barnett and Black Whitechurch are ready for this year's rugby season. Photo: SIMON McCARTHY

The Tamworth Magpies arrived in Inverell on Saturday to face-off against the local side that bumped them in the first round of last year’s competition.

The 33-29 victory in Tamworth in April last year kicked off the 2016 season and saw the Highlanders go on to resounding wins against Scone, Barraba and Quirindi.

A long offseason of intense tactical training and limited player turnover will see an experienced, more strategic Highlanders line up looking to back up their win on home turf at the weekend.

“We have a really good spread of talent,” Playing club president Josh Phillips said.

The Highlanders were in training on Tuesday and Thursday this week as the team structure was finalised.

“We have experienced backs and experienced forwards. We have some young guys coming in as well.” Phillips said the Highlanders would capitalise in 2017 on the team’s experience.

“Some teams are more known for their forwards or their backs, but from No. 1 to 15, we are pretty well-spread regarding talent and ability and where we can score points.”

2017 Season fixtures

Highlander captain Scott Houston said the link play between the forwards and backs and tactical training through the offseason would be key to the club’s success in 2017.

“(The offseason) has been long. We have been training for a fair while now, but everyone is looking pretty good,” Houston said.

“Hopefully, we might catch a couple of teams napping at the start of the year.”

The club came away after a strong showing at Croppa Creek in the first week of April, leading 5-0 at halftime and returning in the second half to claim a last-minute victory, 13-12.

Phillips said this weekend’s face-off against the Magpies will be a good test to start the season proper.

“This game last year, the draw has actually been flipped on its head, so we played the Tamworth Magpies in Tamworth last year,” Phillips said.

“So when you talk about geeing up for this weekend, we know they will be coming over here knowing that that is what knocked them out last year.

2016 reserves players Nick Cummings and Josh Stewart moved up to first grade this year, joined by new players Justin Power, from Albies, and Crag Curtain.

FIST-GRADE: 2016 reserve Highlander Nick Cummings will move up to first grade this year with fellow player Josh Stewart. Photo: SIMON McCARTHY.

FIST-GRADE: 2016 reserve Highlander Nick Cummings will move up to first grade this year with fellow player Josh Stewart. Photo: SIMON McCARTHY.

Phillips said the Magpies had a reputation as a tough side and that the home squad would not go into the match lightly.

Meanwhile, Houston said the teams to beat this year will be the Tamworth Pirates and Walcha.

“The Pirates are always up there,” he said. “Magpies this weekend. They should be fairly good as well. The usual teams will be up there.”

Women’s Highlanders waste no time making a name in the competition

The first Inverell Highlander’s women’s line up burst into the competition, chalking up 176 points and conceding none in a preseason smash against Armidale in March.

The young side, which club president Josh Phillips said had come from “Dale Beattie’s Warialda nursery” dominated the preseason with unmatched technical precision.

“A lot of them have played in high school, and so I guess their skill set and their game awareness (is their strength),” Phillips said this week.

“They play proper rugby, and it beats the girls who are still learning on the go. It will be interesting to see how they go up against the good teams.”

All grade in the club will travel to Scone to contest round two of the competition on May 6, but return to their home turf in round three.

Meanwhile, Highlander reserves are showing a short player list, but Phillips called on player past and present to get behind their club.

“If anyone is interested, I mean, if anyone has been a Highlander before, they are encouraged to come along,” he said.

President’s report: Club extends arms to community and juniors

The 2017 Highlanders are a diversified club but are bringing strength in experience to the competition. President Josh Phillips said the inclusion of the women’s grade this year, as well as fostering the junior club has only strengthened the club’s bonds.

The Under 10s Highlanders will introduce the season at the weekend at Rugby Park, taking the field before the first-grade match against the Tamworth Magpies

“Tamworth is bringing a few youngsters across, and that is something that has not been done in a while,” Phillips said.

BOOTS ON: Dylan Mather joins the Highlanders for training at Rugby Park on Tuesday evening. Photo: SIMON McCARTHY.

BOOTS ON: Dylan Mather joins the Highlanders for training at Rugby Park on Tuesday evening. Photo: SIMON McCARTHY.

“We have had multiple training sessions, where some of the senior guys have been assisting the junior coaches and training alongside the juniors.

“We are getting more inclusion between the two clubs, reminding the older guys why they play, and trying to encourage some of the younger kids to get more involved.”

Phillips said anyone interested in becoming a club member could contact the Highlanders or visit their website.

2016 Season recap

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