NELSON BAY coach David Sharp was always confident that he had a competitive squad.
The addition of Sapati Peniata, Rhys Dombkins, Junior Polai, Bailey Sevuloni and Inoke Rokotolu provided a mixture of bulk and brilliance.
The concern was how long it would take for the new-look side to form combinations, trust and familiarity.
Five rounds in and Sharp is happy with the progress.
The Bay sit top of the table on 18 points and are coming off a drought-breaking 24-22 win over premiers Hamilton.
“We have boys from around the world and everyone has just slotted in really well, whether they have been here three years, two years or one game,” Sharp said. “There is a different vibe this year and everyone is buying in. All the boys are enjoying their rugby and it is a really good atmosphere.”
The Gropers take on Merewether in a top-of-the-table clash at Townson Oval on Saturday.
Peniata moves from the side of the scrum to hooker to provide “a bit more size” up front. Adam Edwards, last season’s coach, comes it at blindside breakaway.
“Merewether are pretty much the benchmark at the moment,” Sharp said. “We were pretty happy with the win over Hamilton. It had been a very long time since the Bay had won at Passmore, over 15 years or so. But that was last week and we need to move forward. Merewether have played some good footy. They have a good six, a good eight and a good 15. It is very much about limiting their time and space.”
The Greens are unbeaten and lapped big-improvers Singleton 71-5 last start.
Ed Clifton moves to halfback for Eli McCulloch (Country under-20s).
“It’s a good situation when you can replace the Newcastle colts rep halfback with the Newcastle senior rep halfback,” co-coach Mick Gill said. “Eddie plays with a lot of energy, has a huge motor and gets us on the front foot. He is different type of halfback to Eli. This is an opportunity for Eddie. There is a lot of competition for places. That is why we have had early success. ”
Gill has been impressed by the Bay.
“They have a lot more depth and they have added some attacking weapons,” he said. “That has taken a bit of pressure off Chad Northcott. He is not the sole go-to guy and can sit back and pick his time. The thing with the whole comp is that if you don’t turn up on the day, any team can beat you. That hasn’t been the case in recent years.”
Elsewhere, veteran Fijian Seva Rokobaro comes in at No.8 for Hamilton as they aim to bounce back against University at Bernie Curran Oval. The Students are without fly-half Hone Edwards (Country 20s).
At Walters Park, prop Noa Taufaao and breakaway Tyrrel Freeman-Mafi are among six changes to Wanderers side for the battle with Lake Macquarie.
At Marcelin Park, Maitland have been boosted with the inclusion of Travis Brooke, James Johnston and Josh McCormack for the visit by Singleton.