The 39th Darwin Rugby Union season is just five days away and with it brings two new Coaches to the First Grade scene and a Grand Final replay between University and Casuarina to kick it off proceedings on Saturday night while some Clubs are being cagey about announcing off season recruits.
Last Season’s Premier University have appointed Dan Wetherall to replace Damien Tyson as Head Coach. A primary school teacher from Country NSW, Wetherall spent six years living and working in Cambodia.
During his time in the Kingdom, Wetherall spent two years as the Cambodian Federation of Rugby’s Development Manager and Coach.
With the eligibility clause for National Team selection being three years of residency, Wetherall was able to earn six test caps for the Koupreys and play in the Asian Sevens Series which is experience that bodes well for the Pirates future.
Peter McGrath will be at the helm of Casuarina for an unprecedented seventh term during which time the Cougars have won four flags and been runner-up on two occasions.
Casuarina has lost a few of the key players that have laid the foundation of their recent success.
Half Back Sam Batty has retired as a result of a neck injury sustained in the Grand Final, while Aaron Rudduck injured and Matt Meyers unavailable are not expected to see much game time. Representative front rower Brad Thomas has relocated to Perth.
Whilst the Cougars are not reporting any key off-season gains, Nathan Satala had a rousing game in last week’s pre-season match against Dragons. Satala played for the Mosquitoes at both the Hottest 7s and National 7s.
South Darwin will again have former Australian 7s captain Tim Atkinson calling the shots at Warren Park.
Atkinson took the Rabbitohs to the Grand Final in 2012 but they have been upset by University in consecutive Preliminary Finals since.
Souths have lost the services of talented fly half Keegan Neal who has linked with the Burnside Rugby Club in Adelaide while prolific try scorer Lepani Nabuliwaqa has returned to Fiji.
Jake Rainger will also be missing from the backline after relocating to Tasmania for at least three months.
Logan Vaney and Ian Aokuso have moved to Darwin from Western Australia are both expected to play First Grade for the Bunnies.
Souths go into Saturday’s match against Dragons on the back of a comprehensive victory over Palmerston in the Pre-Season Cup Final after defeating Casuarina a week earlier.
Palmerston supporters will be hoping new Coach Stan Carnes can take the Crocs deep into the business end of the season.
Palmerston has made the Grand Final only once in the twelve years since the competition switched to the dry season.
By contrast the tri-colours figured in six of the last twelve wet season deciders and won the nine week transitional competition during the build-up of 2002.
Carnes coached the Melbourne University Club before moving to Darwin and has had an entire off-season to work with his new charges.
Encouraging for the Crocs is after finishing fourth last year after successive wooden spoons, the Reserve Grade and Under 17s both won Premierships and should provide some depth.
Palmerston’s Pre-Season started off particularly well with wins over Dragons and University before going down to Souths last week.
Michael Killiner has returned to the line-up after missing almost the entire 2014 season through injury and proved a handful for Souths in the Pre-Season Final.
Darwin Dragons have recruited particularly well and should not be underestimated.
Liam Walker returns to the Club after three seasons at University while Drew and Greg Tobin have returned from Brisbane full time after playing intermittently last year.
Another Dragons Junior Joseph Stanek crosses back from Rugby League while Sunia Radravu comes back to the club after a season with Cougars.
They will however miss the services of talented loose forward Cameron Meurant who polled well in last year’s Eric Johnston Medal.
Puru Westrupp will again coach the side but will need a strong commitment from his squad to win their first flag since 2007.
The Fred’s Pass based Swampdogs have elected to only participate in the Reserve Grade competition this year despite encouraging performances back in the top grade last year.
The first Representative Match of the season will be a celebration of the ANZAC Centenary with a Country of Origin Match between Australia and New Zealand on the 25th of April.
It will be the first time in over a decade the fiercely contested event has been held.
The Mosquitoes will travel to Brisbane in July for matches against the touring North Canterbury Province and a yet to be confirmed Queensland Representative team at Ballymore.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of NT Rugby.