NEWCASTLE coach Stu Pinkerton is relying on the nucleus of last year’s winning side with a sprinkle of fresh faces to deliver a second straight Caldwell Cup.
Pinkerton has selected a 28-man squad which will be trimmed to 25 for the 2018 Country Championship to be held in Warren on April 28-29.
Hamilton hooker Steve Lamont and Merewether centre Jay Strachan will lead a side boasting NSW Country representatives Michael Howell, Travis Brooke, Dane Sherratt, Adrian Delore and speedster Tim Marsh.
However, Nathan Brennan, Sireli Bainivalu, Steve Sione, Ben Christensen, Favaae Sila, Jono O'Toole, Sam Foggarty, Ben Ham, Sonni Halanukonuka and Paddy Killmurray are not backing up.
“The nucleus of the team from last year is back and there are a few fresh faces as well,” Pinkerton said. “Hamilton prop Peter Bakarich deserved to be picked on form. He was outstanding during the finals series. Chris Pusi is back from Sydney. Young halfback Max Stafford is a good prospect as is Caileb Gerrard and back-rower Darcy Christie-Johnston has returned to Uni after a season in Sydney at Easts.”
Last year, Newcastle accounted for Central North 55-17 in the semi-final before thumping Illawarra 46-7.
“One thing we did really well last year – we had a plan and we stuck to it,” Pinkerton said. “It was pretty simple but it worked well. In both games we had really good second halves. If anything we might look to play slightly more expansive.”
Pinkerton has again organised guest coaches to conduct sessions with NSW coaching staff Tim Rapp and Pat McCutcheon and players Nick Palmer and Harry Johnson-Holmes to make a trip to Newcastle on the Waratahs bye weekend (April 16).
The senior squad, colts and juniors from under-12s to 17s train on Sundays at No.2 Sportsground and the adjacent No.5 Oval.
“The juniors train before us,” Pinkerton said. “The idea is to create a bit more of a club feel with the rep teams and be a bit more efficient with our resources.”
Newcastle will have a hit out against Central Coast on March 10.
Newcastle: Pete Bakarich, Michael Aliifaalogo, Will Fonua, Steve Lamont, Chris Pusi, Sapati Peniata, Barcelona, Leeland Marshall, Glenn Stone, Mick Howell, Joe Akkersdyk, Seva Rokobaro, Darcy Christie Johnston, Kelemate Finau, Tom Emayel, Liam Bowden, Josh Stewart, Travis Brooke, Max Stafford, Eddie Clifton, Dane Sherratt, Caileb Gerrard, Michael Delore, Jay Strachan, Tim Marsh, Adrian Delore, Rob Richardson.