New faces ready for grand final rematch

MEREWETHER Carlton coach Stacey Sykes is backing generation next to come of age when the injury-hit Newcastle and Hunter and Rugby Union premiers meet Hamilton in today’s grand final rematch at Passmore Oval.

The Greens have more than half a team on the sidelines nursing injuries and will field five Colts – three of whom are playing in the top grade for the first time – in today’s showdown.

Inside-centre Connor O’Leary, breakaway Matt Ireland and hooker Bill Dunn will make their debuts in the absence of regulars Sam Clifton, Sean Rudder, Sam Bright, Adam Nolan, Nick Bakarich and Trent Considine , and Mark Wade, who recently came back after a stint with the Newcastle Knights.

Sykes said yesterday he had full faith in his rookies and expected their more experienced teammates to rise to the occasion and show true championship qualities.

‘‘We won’t be making any excuses tomorrow,’’ Sykes said.

‘‘It’s unfortunate that we’ve got people unavailable, but we’re confident in the players coming in and happy with our selections.

‘‘For us, it’s not about having anyone out, it’s about turning up with a side we believe can do the job for us.

‘‘We’ll see how good our depth is and how our young guys respond to playing at this level.

‘‘These guys have an opportunity and they really want to make the most of it.’’

Sykes said Wade, who made a comeback to rugby last week after spending six months with the Newcastle Knights, won’t play and was awaiting the results of scans on an ankle injury.

Hamilton coach Scott Coleman said his squad would also be depleted by the absence of five NSW Country representatives and would not be underestimating the team who broke their hearts with a late try in last year’s grand final.

‘‘There will be a lot of different players in both sides, so I don’t really know how much of a reflection it’s going to be of last year’s grand final,’’ he said.

‘‘But whoever Merewether put out, they’re the premiers, they’ve won the club championship for the last five years and I’m sure they’ve got the depth to cover for any injuries.

‘‘We won’t be taking them lightly, that’s for sure.’’

Coleman said there was ‘‘friendly rivalry’’ but mutual respect between the two heavyweight foes.

‘‘I guess for our players who were in last year’s grand final and lost, they’ve got a bit of a grudge match coming up,’’ he said.

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