CESSNOCK’S NSW Country player drain has been offset by the inclusion of former captain Ryan Gregory and ex-Knights prop Brendan Worth for today’s game against Port Stephens at Cessnock Sportsground.
The Goannas have six players – Sam Wooden, Chris Pyne, Terence Seu Seu, Brendan Hlad, Riley Brown and Mick O’Shea – unavailable for a fortnight due to Country’s Samoan tour.
But in Gregory and Worth, Cessnock coach Todd Edwards has two impressive replacements.
Gregory has been out since breaking his shoulder in round one against Lakes United and Worth will make his debut in black and gold after having signed just before the June 30 transfer deadline.
Worth played 21 NRL games with the Knights and Penrith between 2005 and 2008 before he moved to France to play with Toulouse Olympique and Villeneuve Leopards in the Elite One Championship.
The 27-year-old returned to Australia last week and trained with Cessnock for the first time on Tuesday night.
His appearance at training left an immediate impression on Edwards.
‘‘He’s going to fit in really well, he’ll be very good for us,’’ Edwards said.
‘‘He’s very fit, he has surprised me, Truckie. He was playing professionally in France, so he knows what we’re about and he’s walked straight into our systems and is doing it on his ear.
‘‘The timing is good with Ryan and Truck coming back.’’
The Goannas lost their first match of the season last week 44-8 to Wyong.
All Country players have had to sit out this weekend’s football despite not going into camp until next Friday.
Cessnock are expected to easily defeat the Sharks without their Country reps but next week’s game against Western Suburbs at Harker Oval will test the Goannas’ depth.
‘‘It’s ridiculous,’’ Edwards said. ‘‘All the clubs are the same, Wests are going through it as well.
‘‘You get a roster together and then they’re not allowed to play for you and it’s a bit hard to take especially when you lose six, including your spine.’’ At Townson Oval tomorrow, South Newcastle will aim to take advantage of the Rosellas having three of their outside backs on Country duty.
The sixth-placed Lions (11 points) have not lost a match in a month and a victory over their arch rivals will place them one point behind the fourth-placed Rosellas.
Souths gave up first-half leads and won just one of their first four games.
Captain-coach Matt Shipway contributes the run of form to the experience of Scott Briggs and Dane Queenan in the halves.
‘‘The 20 last minutes last week when we had the lead they were kicking long, finding the ground and not panicking and just playing smart footy, whereas if we did that in the first couple of rounds we’d have more wins and probably be sitting second or third,’’ Shipway said.
Souths second-rower Beau Simpson damaged his hamstring at Thursday night’s training and prop Josh Dutton (wrist) and hooker Joe Cudmore (knee) were injured in the victory against Kurri Kurri last Saturday.