The Macquarie Scorpions start their 2019 Newcastle Rugby League season with a NSW Challenge Cup game against Wyong, at Lyall Peacock Field, Toronto, this Saturday.
The Scorpions won the statewide competition in 2017, and are the only Newcastle club contesting the title this season.
Macquarie coach Adam Bettridge said Wyong was sure to field a strong team.
All teams in the NSW Challenge Cup were required to work within a player points system, Betteridge said, but Wyong was likely to field some players from its team which contested the NSW Cup (NRL reserve grade) from last season.
“So it’s going to be a very good hit out for our squad and, in particular, the new players to the club,” Bettridge said.
The club has been impressed by the commitment shown by its players to pre-season training in some hot weather.
“We have been getting over 80 players to training which is a fantastic effort and all the new players to the club have been working very hard.”
Bettridge said Macquarie would have several players sidelined on Saturday.
“They include Liam Higgins, Ben Rouse, Royce Geoffrey, Jack Lumby and Kyle Eather,” he said.
“But they all should be fit and ready to go for the start of the season.”
There will, however, be several new Macquarie players who will take on Wyong in the match that starts at 3pm.
They include Brad Prior, a front rower from Canberra, Lachlan McBeth, from Kurri Bulldogs, and Cody Robbins, from Lakes United.
“The squad has been training very hard and fitness will not be an issue against Wyong,” Bettridge said.
Club secretary Steve Woodbridge said the Scorpions had a very disappointing season in the top grade in 2018.
They finished with the wooden spoon after winning the premiership in 2017.
“However, the lower grades performed very well with the reserve grade winning the premiership, the open grade were grand finalists, and the under-19s were one win away from playing in the final,” Woodbridge said.
“We’ll be giving a number of the younger players in these squads an opportunity in our upcoming trials to assess their progression.”
The club was especially keen to recruit players for a Ladies League Tag team, he said.
The Scorpions will play trials in all grades against Lakes United at Belmont on Saturday, March 9, and The Entrance and Western Suburbs on Saturday, March 16.
The premiership kicks off on April 7.