IT'S a Canberra Raiders home game, but some members of Melbourne Storm's coaching staff are relishing the chance to return to the region where their own careers were born at Wagga on Saturday.
Assistant coaches Ryan Hinchcliffe and Marc Brentnall hail from the area while Craig Bellamy, rated by many as the game's current best mentor, captain-coached Turvey Park in 1991, a year after playing in Canberra's second premiership.
Hinchcliffe already has fond memories of playing at Wagga, after helping guide Country to a win over City at Equex Centre in 2015.
"Any time you get the opportunity to go back to the country and play footy is exciting, especially for Marc and I who have connections with the area," Temora product Hinchcliffe said.
"Rugby league has had so many quality players from the Riverina area for a long time. It's still fairly strong in the area but any time you can bring a NRL game there, it only helps stimulate interest.
"Hopefully a lot of kids come along and the experience of watching a game may be what one kid needs to strive to make it in the NRL one day.
"The game has played a huge role in regional areas for a long time, and it's important the NRL doesn't forget that and we take games back there."
Hinchcliffe has been on Storm's coaching staff since 2019. While the NRL world awaits Bellamy's decision on whether he plans to coach on next year, Hinchcliffe is content to continue learning his trade in one of the most admired systems in the league.
"For now I'm happy just learning," he said.
"It's like any trade, you have to do your apprenticeship and learn your craft, and that's what I'm doing at the moment.
"I'm pretty lucky to be able to do it in the Storm system and obviously under Craig, who is the best coach in the land.
"Where that takes me I'm not sure just yet. I'm happy improving year to year, and seeing what the future holds."
Although they've won their of their first four games this year, with the only loss in golden point against Parramatta, Hinchcliffe feels Storm's form has been up and down.
However they began to click with a 44-0 demolition of Canterbury last week, which Hinchcliffe credited to their defensive efforts early on.
"We've been a bit up and down, some really good footy in patches but also some inconsistent footy, where we've been letting opposition back into games and attack has been stop-start," he said.
"There was some good signs against Parramatta the week before, and I knew once we found our groove we'd put some points on.
"It's nice for the boys to get reward for their efforts (against the Bulldogs) but it was off the back of our defence.
"We did a whole heap of work defensively early on, and sometimes that sets you up because you're in the right mindset to work hard."
Hinchcliffe is unsure whether Bellamy will bring up his own short experience in Riverina football before Saturday's clash with the Raiders on Saturday.
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