The NRL in Mackay

In his latest column English coach Alan Kilshaw takes a look at the NRL clubs who have hit Mackay in recent weeks as they prepare for the new season.

I was able to watch some NRL teams live in action recently as Mackay was very lucky to host three NRL teams over two weekends late January/early February, two of those sides that competed in last weekend’s World Club Series.

First up on the 31st of January was St George Illawarra taking on the Mackay Cutters in a trial game. This was on the same weekend as the Auckland Nines, which saw the Dragons blood some of their fringe players but established senior players were on show including England International Gareth Widdop and fan favorite George Rose. Former Melbourne Storm premiership winner Dane Neilson, a Mackay product made his debut for the Dragons, bagging the first try.

This was anything but a friendly, it was a very physical encounter and both sides went at it with plenty of big shots and aggressive defence. The Mackay Cutters were out to show their NRL counterparts they could handle the intensity of a full-time outfit.

Widdop, in his first outing since the Four Nations, showed some good touches and played around 60 minutes before been brought off for the last quarter.

The game was played in front of a huge crowd in very hot conditions, suited to watching rather than playing.

The following week saw Brisbane Broncos take on the North Queensland Cowboys in a trial game at Mackay.

This was a huge event for the region, involving a lot of community work done by both sides in the lead up to the game, including junior coaching clinics and player appearances.

I was also fortunate to attend a coach seminar with Wayne Bennett delivering some education on his philosophies and discussing his passion and love for the game. He also gave an insight on why he came back to the Broncos.

The game itself was a bit of a disappointment from a neutral perspective, both sides used the match to blood youngsters and picked a mixture of fringe players and established players. The first 20 minutes was very intense, but with a lot of changes and a heavy downpour following that first period, the game became very scrappy with lots of errors.

Greg Eden showed some nice touches with his limited game time, and it was good to see Antony Milford and Ben Hunt’s first game for the Broncos together as they work on there combination for the up and coming campaign.

The Cowboys could go very close this season, they have a very good roster and the addition of Ben Hannat from the Broncos has bolstered their already strong-looking pack.

Brisbane, with a new coach, will take time to get used to new systems and with some new signings they will need more time to gel, but under Bennett you cant write them off. I expect they will be strong in the second half of the season.

Alan Kilshaw is the head coach of Sarina Crocodiles who play in the Mackay and District competition in North Queensland. He was formerly an assistant coach with the Mackay Cutters in the Queensland Intrust Super Cup. Previously he served as an assistant coach to England’s Under-16 team and managed the Warrington Wolves’ Player Development Centre.