NEWCASTLE Rebels coach Paul Skovgaard has given his side free rein to attack today in the Country Rugby League Divisional Championships final in Queanbeyan to expose the perceived weak links in Canberra’s defence.
Skovgaard has identified Canberra wingers Aufaga Lafaele and Dwayne Connors and halves Clint Wright and Josh Burns as defensive liabilities and has directed his troops to shift the ball wide often.
‘‘Because they are a big pack, if we can move them around quick we can wear those boys out [and] there will be plenty of room for our speed men on the edges to control that,’’ he said.
‘‘They have a couple of deficiencies out wide and we’ll be looking for our centres, Steve Gordon and Simon Williams, to exploit that.
‘‘They have a couple of small halves who defend on the edges, so we can punch holes in them.
‘‘I’ve said to all the guys if they want quick, clean ball ask for it early, so they can use their footwork as they have wingers who make bad decisions and I think we can really take advantage of that.’’
The Rebels made the final by defeating Central Coast 36-20 in their semi-final at Cessnock a fortnight ago and Canberra beat Northern Rivers 22-12.
Ankle injuries to Kurri Kurri prop Jesse Royal and Maitland utility Marco Delapena have forced Rebels selectors into recalling Pickers front-rower Colby Schrader and handing South Newcastle utility Matt Ireland his representative debut.
Since returning to the Lions full-time this season from the Knights, Ireland has been in deadly form at fullback or five-eighth, scoring nine tries.
Ireland’s athleticism has caught Skovgaard’s eye.
‘‘He’s a very good runner of the ball, so maybe in the back end of the halves or late in the game, hopefully if they’re tiring, he can get on there then as he’s an electric runner,’’ Skovgaard said.
‘‘He’s scored plenty of tries this year in the local comp and his pace and athleticism will cause lots of problems.’’
The loss of Delapena, who can play as an outside back or forward, means Skovgaard will be one big man short from the semi-final victory against Central Coast.
‘‘The blokes we have in the front row in Brendan Hlad and Colby Schrader they can play lots of minutes, so what we’re going to lose with Marco out I can probably utilise those guys if I need to and rotate the forwards that way,’’ Skovgaard said.
After last year’s four-year drought-breaking victory over Illawarra in the final, eight Newcastle players were selected for Country.
Only three of those players, Jacob Sinclair, Sam Wooden and Steve Gordon, will be available again for selection.
Skovgaard expects at least five new Rebels to don the Country jersey if they beat Canberra today.
‘‘I’ve said to them that stuff is a bonus,’’ he said.
‘‘If you get your job done and we win then those awards will come.
‘‘Last year we had eight and you would expect no less than that if we get the right result this year.’’
Skovgaard said Maitland’s Jade Porter, in particular, was a great chance to wear the Country No.7 jumper.