ONE of Cootamundra’s great rugby league warriors has landed a shock call-up to first grade for the Group Nine derby against Young at Alfred Oval on Saturday.
After more than decade of senior service, Andrew Bucknell is the Bulldogs new halfback for the critical clash with the Cherrypickers.
Cootamundra co-coach Aaron Byrne revealed that Bucknell would come into the first grade team for the first time in 2015.
Byrne reported that Bucknell’s promotion was a direct result of an injury to stylish fullback Jordyn Ballard.
“Jordy injured his ankle last weekend,” Byrne said.
“(He) Only played the first 20 (minutes), was a big loss too, he was untouchable early.”
The loss of Ballard midway through the first half was a serious blow as Cootamundra was edged out 14-12 by Albury at Les Boyd Oval last Sunday.
With Ballard out, Byrne and co-coach Luke Berkrey have handed Bucknell a rare opportunity in the top team.
Although a player with abundant talent, Bucknell is usually content to play a secondary role with the Bulldogs.
Byrne said Buckwell is Cootamundra’s reserve grade captain-coach, but more than capable of making an impact in first grade.
“He (Bucknell) has only played a handful of first grade games during his time,” Byrne said.
“It’s not that he doesn't have the ability, he's a very good footballer, he is just someone who is quite happy running around in reserve grade.”
Byrne said Bucknell was Cootamundra’s “best option” for the huge clash with Young.
“A young guy we usually use, James Smith, is needing to sit out a week or so of first grade to even out his ratio of first grade to under-18 games so that he can qualify to play finals for the 18s,” Byrne said.
At 27, Bucknell has a remarkable record and imposing reputation at Cootamundra.
Week in and week out, Bucknell plays a commanding role in reserve grade, and is only occasionally given a rise to fill a vacancy.
Ballard’s injury has provided another chance for Bucknell to play first grade, slotting in at halfback with Matt Forsyth switching to fullback.
Significantly, Bucknell’s elevation comes as Young captain-coach Luke Branighan will make a return to the halves from a calf muscle injury.
Branighan will partner Matt Murray as Neil Thorman goes to hooker.
Out wider Tony Leadbeater is in the centres as Warren Aiken goes to the bench, while time-bandit Nick Hall is in the second row.
The winner of Saturday’s game will secure fifth spot on the table for at least a week.
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