COACH Scott Coleman is adamant that Hamilton boast a better scrum than they did in 2016.
That is the same scrum that destroyed Wanderers to set up a 37-28 victory in the grand final and claim consecutive premierships.
The Hawks meet the Two Blues at Passmore Oval on Saturday for the first time since last year’s decider. While the unbeaten Hawks are firing at “about 50 per cent of our capability” Coleman has been happy with one aspect – the scrum.
“It is even more solid than last year,” Coleman said. “We have probably got three first-grade front-rows at the club. Geraint Weaver, Willie Finua, Lachy Hodges and Harry Drennan are playing lower grades. We have lots of depth. We always pack live scrums at training and the boys say it is harder than what we get in the games. It is a good position to be in.”
Tighthead prop Faavae Sila has returned from a two-month stint at Warringah, adding to an eight anchored by Pete Maxwell and Pete Bakarich and powered by Seva Rokobaro and Joe Akkersdyk.
“Faavae has definitely come back a much-improved player,” Coleman said.
“He is a lot more knowledgeable and understands he can play at the next level rather than just be comfortable. His ball carries have been enormous and he is scrummaging out of sight. It is certainly an area we will try to assert some pressure and see if they they can hold us.”
Number eight Ben Ham is the only Wanderers forward playing Saturday from last year’s grand final. Ryan Jackson, who came through the Sale Sharks academy, Simon Yanis (tighthead) and Doug McKillop (loosehead) are a new front-row.
“That is the one thing you don’t forget from that grand final,” Wanderers coach Viv Paasi said of the way the Two Blues’ scrum crumbled.
“This is a different group. They don’t carry that stigma and hangover. We have a bit more size this year and the guys have worked quite hard. In saying that, I don’t think you can ever do enough. They go in every week knowing that they have to be good at the set piece to get us front-foot ball and unleash the backs.”
Both sides played down the importance of the round-eight clash, with each suggesting it will be a “good test of where we are at”.
“We haven’t clicked by any means,” Coleman said. “We are not stressed about it, we just need to find our mojo. Wanderers have speed to burn out wide and are very skilful. Turnover ball is a massive threat for us. Josh McCormack at the back has added another dimension to their attack.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, Adrian Delore, who was overlooked for NSW Country’s game against the Brumbies Provincial, returns at fullback when Southern Beaches host Merewether.
Lake Macquarie captain Brendan Holliday is back from a quadriceps injury for the Roos’ clash with a Maitland side minus NSW Country duo Travis Brooke and Jono O’Toole.
Big-improvers Nelson Bay host The Waratahs at Strong Oval. University are at home to Singleton.