Finally, Central North Rugby Union action will return to Narrabri for the first time since September 2019 this Saturday when Dangar Park hosts a 2021 season round one matchday in which the Blue Boars will take on the Quirindi Lions.

The 2020 competition was cancelled amid last year’s COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting social distancing laws that were introduced across NSW.

All clubs have since put COVID behind them and have successfully nominated to play in 2021.

Narrabri Rugby Club planned to field sides in all four grades this season before the colts (under-21s) competition was cancelled this week due to a lack of team nominations.

The Blue Boars’ three teams for 2021 now include a first grade side which will be coached by Hunter Harley (who will be assisted by Todd Farrer), a women’s sevens side which will be coached by Will Guest and a second grade side which will be co-coached by Mitch Creighton and Craig Summers.

All three of those teams will be in action on Saturday afternoon in round one in front of a home crowd against Quirindi Lions (men’s teams) and Barraba Gwydir (women’s sevens team).

There are high expectations for the Blue Boars’ first XV in 2021, which will be captained by returning gun halfback Matt Schwager.

The Courier recently spoke to Harley, club president Mick Coffey and club captain Sam Knight about all things Narrabri rugby in 2021.

The Blue Boars are pleased to have the CNRU competition back up and running in 2021:

Narrabri Rugby Club president Mick Coffey worked tirelessly during 2020 as part of a working group tasked to get the competition up and running before the COVID-19 situation became unviable for clubs.

Coffey said he was pleased that the 2021 CNRU season had finally arrived and rugby was back at Dangar Park after last year’s disappointment.

“We’ve had a couple of goes already this year with the festival and the Albies games and we can’t underestimate how good they were, but now the comp is finally here which is what everyone wants to win,” Coffey said.

“We are really excited as a committee that Central North rugby is back and the playing group is really ready to go.”

Harley said that rugby returning was not only a positive for the Narrabri Rugby Club, but also the entire town itself.

“We are very excited,” Harley said.

“For Narrabri, coming to the rugby is a great social thing to do in the winter so from that point of view and for footy in general it’s definitely a great thing.”

On expectations for the first grade side in 2021:

Coffey said that he expected the first XV to go even further than it did in the 2019 season in which it qualified for the preliminary final and went down to Pirates 31-25 on home soil.

“Player numbers are good in our senior squad and the quality is outstanding, I can’t think of a year in recent times when we’ve had such depth to be quite honest,” Coffey said.

“Hunter Harley’s record speaks for itself, we know what he can do with a team.

“Having a bloke like Todd Farrer in the mix along with Jack Farrer who is doing a lot of coaching with us as well, I have got really high expectations.

“We’ve gone close the past few seasons so with a few new faces and a few returning to that squad I’d like to think we can go a little bit further this year.”

Harley has been impressed by his players’ attitudes so far this year across both pre-season training and the 22-0 Hannaford-Southwell Shield victory against Albies.

He said that although the club had a great first XV on paper, he was well aware games are won on the field.

“I think we have got a lot of promise and we have a very good team on paper but I’ve seen better teams beaten,” the first grade coach said.

“Premierships aren’t won in April, we’ll have to build to something big this year. We are still finding out our way and trying to work out each other and our combinations.

“But the attitudes I’ve seen across pre-season and in the Albies game suggest we’ve got a committed bunch here.

“The way we defended against Albies was outstanding and I strongly believe defence is attitude.

“I think our second grade and first grade sides are going to be very, very competitive this year.”

Blue Boars club captain is driving the club’s positive culture:

The club’s 2021 club captain is Sam Knight, who Coffey described as a tremendous asset to the club.

“I can’t speak highly enough of Sam Knight, he’s an exceptional kid,” Coffey said.

“He’s a wise head for a young bloke and he’s got a focus on the future of our club.

“He’s really challenging people to buy in and be committed this year because he sees how great things can be at this club.

“He leads by example well and truly, he’s a great trainer and a great player and he’s popular within the playing group.

“He doesn’t have to seek respect from others, he deserves it with his actions.”

Following an undefeated championship-winning Western Plains Rugby Union campaign in 2020 alongside Daniel Kahl and former Blue Boar Harry Pye, Knight is determined to achieve success with the Blue Boars in 2021.

“The club has been working really hard to build a stronger culture and create something pretty special this year,” Knight said.

“It’s great to have rugby back here in Narrabri and the club and the playing group are really keen for round one against Quirindi.

“We know what we are capable of as a group so it’s important for us to start well.”

New signings for the 2021 Central North Rugby Union season:

The Narrabri Blue Boars’ first grade squad has been bolstered by some new and returning faces this year.

Headlining those is returning halfback Matt Schwager who will skipper the side in 2021 and play in the halves alongside returning five eight Henri Knight.

Harley said that partnership was a significant asset for Narrabri.

“They’ve been there and done it before, they’ve won a comp together at nine and 10,” Harley said.

“What I find is that Henri has such a great all-round game. He runs the ball hard, he’s a great passer, he tackles hard and he kicks well.

“Matt is the game manager and when they are playing together Matt really takes the pressure off Henri so he can just play footy.

“I’m expecting big things from them this year at nine and 10.”

“Matt is a whole level of knowledge and experience, and I can’t speak highly enough of him,” Coffey added.

“He’s the best Blue Boar I’ve ever seen in the halfback role without a doubt.

“He directs traffic and always has everyone rolling.

“Everyone just seems to play well when he’s on the field.”

Returning to Narrabri to join the Blue Boars for the 2021 season is former Waratahs and Sydney University centre Will McDonnell who was electric in the win against Albies.

“Will will be a leader for us this year,” Harley said.

“He only says something when it needs to be said and I really like that about him.

“It’s just great to have him here, he’ll bring so much to this team.

“It’s also kind of like déjà vu for me. Eight years ago when I was coaching I was lucky enough to have Matt Schwager, who was still playing first grade in Sydney, come back.

“We are lucky to have Will at 25 or whatever he is playing for Narrabri.”

The club has also claimed a major coup by bringing in former Moree Bull Matt Wannan, who in 2019 was named in the Moree Rugby Club’s best squad from 1959-2019 at its 60-year reunion.

“Matt Wannan joins the club which is just great, he was selected in the greatest Moree team ever and he’ll be a handy acquisition in our forward pack,” Harley said.

“He’s hurt his shoulder though and has only been to one training run but I’m hoping that will get better and he’ll be playing in a few weeks.”

Another new signing has joined Will Turner and Joe Maunder in the front row.

That is Damien Nott who will run out in the number one jersey on Saturday.

“Notty played a lot of rugby at TAS and then Albies,” Harley said.

“In the Albies game he was getting a little bit of rust out, like everyone really, but he definitely knows how to play footy.

“I think he’ll develop into a long term prospect in the front row for us.”

Starting lineup for this weekend’s first grade clash against Quirindi:

Harley has named his starting lineup for Saturday afternoon’s round one clash and is feeling confident.

Henri Knight is unavailable following a head clash in the side’s win against Albies but is expected to return for his team’s round three match against Pirates. Covering him in round one will be Will McDonnell.

Meanwhile, missing from the forward pack is Mitch Wheaton.

The starting lineup for Saturday’s game is as follows:
Damien Nott (1), Joe Maunder (2), Will Turner (3), Daniel Kahl (4), Jack Maunder (5), Nick Anderson (6), Matt McDonnell (7), Sam Knight VC (8), Matt Schwager C (9), Will McDonnell VC (10), Clayton Pursche (11), Jimmy Schwager (12), Jacob Nichols (13), Jacob Booby (14), Jydon Hill (15).

What to expect from Quirindi this weekend:

“I wouldn’t call them an unknown quantity, but from what I’ve heard they have two or three good footballers
who have come home after playing high level in Sydney or at school,” Harley said.

“I think they are going to be a little bit of a surprise packet for us this weekend.

“My message to the boys is don’t just turn up and think we are going to get the five points and move on to the next weekend.

“We are going to need to take Quirindi very seriously.”

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