Bulls look the goods, but the race is still wide open

IT’S?early days yet, but Southcity is looking hot again for the Group Nine premiership.

Form from the West Wyalong Knockout is not always the best guide, but the Bulls definitely made the right impact at the weekend.

For starters, I’m positive Southcity will be the fittest team in Group Nine again, although some of their rivals will have caught up a bit.

Just like last year, Southcity has the right players in the right positions – and it showed over the course of the two nights of the knockout.

The Bulls’ big guns were as sharp and deadly as ever – and the new, and not so new, recruits were downright impressive.

What a find they’ve got in ex-Orange prop Evan Davis.

He’s tough, uncompromising and skilful enough to take up exactly where Nathan Vagg left off last year.

With Vagg gone to Tumut and Dave McGrath somewhere up the coast, Davis will have the role of taking the Bulls forward – and he’s the man for the job.

Davis and, maybe Keiran Schauf, could be equally as tough a combination as Vagg and McGrath were last year.

The other huge bonus for Southcity is Pani Manawatu, who is as close to an NRL halfback in-waiting as you can get.

Manawatu never made it out the pre-season in 2011, but sure made up for lost time at West Wyalong.

It’s a sobering thought that Manawatu walks into a team with already three absolute rip and tear game-breakers.

Like 2011, Daniel Fitzhenry, Peter Little, Kyle McCarthy are going to make mincemeat of most of the other teams.

Honestly, the way they played at West Wyalong, Fitzhenry Little and McCarthy could have easily been locked in a time warp and just wandered in from grand final day at Equex Centre.

Without going overboard, Pete Little was as near enough to breathtaking as a player can get in pre-season trials.

What a player.

Seriously, a team with Little, Fitzhenry, McCarthy and Manawatu has almost cornered the market on pace, skill and daring.

Wait up – this can’t be happening.

Two months away from the start of the Group Nine premiership and this newspaper gibberer is handing it to Southcity on a platter.

Wrong.

Based purely on what happened at West Wyalong, the Bulls are entitled to be premiership favourite, but there is still room for manoeuvring.

Six Group Nine teams played at West Wyalong – three of them won a game and the others got lapped.

But I’m not so naive to think Albury, Kangaroos and Junee are as bad as they looked at West Wyalong.

Junee had a bunch of kids – no Damien Willis, Nathan McGowan or Tom Sellars –Albury doesn’t travel at the best of times and (hopefully) Kangaroos had virtually a reserve grade team.

The best result for Roos was that Forbes halfback Adam Hall showed he can play –and he did it while he was apparently as crook as a dog.

Rest assured, the Roos need to fill in the gaps and get Andrew Hinchcliffe on the field.

Further afield, forget Albury even played at West Wyalong and Willis, McGowan and Sellars will have to carry Junee this year.

The Diesels have a smattering of talent, but without the “big three” they won’t aim up.

On the other side of the coin, there were encouraging signs at West Wyalong for Brothers and Temora.

Two of the bottom-feeders last year, Brothers and Temora, showed more than a degree of promise on Friday and/or Saturday night.

The Dragons were slick enough in beating Darlington Point-Coleambally on Friday, but the Roosters were barely average and will finish last in Group 20.

Significantly, Temora played without Josh Murray, Chris Dowell and Matt Hornby and they will be absolute guns in 2012.

Imagine Murray running the show with Jacob Kite in the halves – that’s one heck of a winning combo.

The best move made by Temora was installing Neville Elwin as coach – he seems to have reinvigorated all and sundry.

I liked what I saw, which, I’m sure, isn’t really saying much.

Similar thoughts on Brothers. After an absolute disaster in 2011, the Brethren have restocked the pantry with sufficient talent to pick up the pieces.

There are no guarantees Blake Dunn will miraculously lift Brothers from last to first, but I’m betting he’ll definitely get them into the finals.

Fitness is the key to Brothers this year.

For all of Dunn’s hard work last year, there were times he didn’t seem to be getting the support from the players.

Maybe the new blood in the club will bring about a change in attitude as it is much needed.

Or else the rest of the players might just follow the lead of Brayden Sharrock, who always puts in on and off the field.

The anticipated rise of Brothers, Temora and even Young is going to put the acid on Junee and Albury to keep up with the pack.

The jury is still out on Gundagai and Tumut, but it is impossible to think they will fall off the pace.

Bring on round one.

RUGBY league is much poorer for the loss last week of Peter Price and Don Harper.

Peter Price was a genuine good bloke – he didn’t make a fuss about anything, but, in football parlance, got the job done.

Imagine, Peter Price was first grade manager at Brothers for 13 years. It certainly takes someone with special qualities to deal with footballer egos, tantrums and shortcomings for so long.

As they say, patience is a virtue, but Peter Price had no shortage of those.

I understand Don Harper’s involvement with Kangaroos spanned five decades at least. In many ways, Don Harper was the patriarch of the club, a man with a burning passion to ensure Roos were never left stranded.

It’s trite, but Don Harper and Peter Price will be sadly missed.

The sport they loved has lost two of its greatest allies.

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