No excuses: Ipswich footy sides step up against new rivals
AFTER major youth development and with a fitness edge, the West End Bulldogs are expected to mount a serious challenge in this year's revamped intercity rugby league competition.
Bulldogs head coach Jae Woodward is backing his side to feature prominently when they kick off the new format against Toowoomba opponents Souths Tigers at the North Ipswich Reserve on Saturday afternoon.
"We've had the 'youngest side' for the last four years,'' Woodward said preparing for the six-team series being contested over the next 10 weeks.
"The majority of them now are 22-24 year olds and have played four years in A Grade.
"It's their time. They can't use the excuse that they are young.''
Woodward guided the club's premiership-winning Colts side in 2017.
"The majority of these boys have been from that Colts side that won the grand final,'' he said.
While the youth can step up, the Bulldogs have also added experience through seasoned footballers like Swifts duo Harold Mosby and Aaron Nemani, along with Brothers pair Elijah Umu and Fine Faingaa.
Charlie Kaipati and Aiden Boyce are club co-captains.
Woodward was also looking to Brothers recruit Israel Oti to bolster the team's organising ability in the halves.
The Bulldogs match is the second of three at the Reserve.
Norths Tigers open the battle for the Volunteers Cup against Gatton Hawks at 1.30pm.
Goodna tackle Valleys Roosters in the 5.30pm clash to complete the first round of long-awaited fixtures.
In his third year as West End head coach, Woodward said the club was committed early to play in either Ipswich or Brisbane.
After the initial uncertainty in Ipswich, he appreciated having the opportunity to unite with Toowoomba clubs for this historic competition.
"The boys just want to play footy and we said if they made the commitment we would back them up,'' Woodward said.
That's why they have been training for five weeks, doing their own CrossFit work in addition to team sessions as the COVID-19 restrictions eased.
"Plans changed so we probably got on the front foot and got a few extra weeks training in on the other guys,'' he said.
Woodward likes the new format of having all six clubs play at the same venue on the same day. He said players could watch other clubs "and it will be good for the supporters too''.
Returning Norths Tigers coach Mick Newton agreed, saying his players welcomed the chance to play some footy.
"I think it's a good challenge. It opens it up,'' Newton said.
The Tigers will field a mix of exciting young talent led by captain and second rower Chris Scanlan and other senior players like Tonga Mounga and Blake Olive.
"We've been at it (training) for a few weeks now and we're getting plenty of boys there too,'' he said.
"We were ready to start (in March) and then things were put on hold.
"The nucleus of the boys were continuing doing their own work.
"We're all ready to go.''
Newton coached the Tigers to finals in 2014 and 2015 before taking on the first grade job in 2018. He's back at the helm after a season off.
After a decade with the Goodna Eagles, Alistair Taua'aletoa is taking on the head coaching role for the new season.
He's eager to promote youth, including a group of Jets Colts players who were unable to play representative football this year.
"We've got a lot of young guys from the 18s stepping up,'' Taua'aletoa said.
"They're definitely keen to have a crack in this competition so we're going to give a lot of our young guys a run through this next 10 weeks.''
Taua'aletoa previously co-coached A-Grade with Laurie Campbell in 2016 and was assistant first grade mentor last year with Corey Kirk.
Club stalwart Ramon Filipine will lead the Eagles in the new series.
"It's definitely going to be interesting, especially with the Toowoomba sides,'' Taua'aletoa said.
"I don't know a lot about their sides in particular.
"It's definitely exciting.
"It's really good for the community, really good for the area.''
The Eagles are planning to host a round nine series at Woogaroo Field.
With Norths planning two major reunions in September when they host their round, Newton said the Tigers also had plenty to get excited about after.
"It gives the club a bit more to take out of the year that's gone basically,'' Newton said.
"It would have been a pity to lose that this year with football not being on.
"Now they've got an opportunity to celebrate that success with each other.''
As Woodward welcomes the senior competition, he is casting a keen eye over the junior competition kicking off on Friday night.
He has been the West End junior coaching co-ordinator for a decade.
Woodward was encouraged to see the club field eight teams, giving the next generation some footy fun.
Saturday (all Volunteers Cup A-Grade matches at North Ipswich Reserve)
1.30pm: Norths Tigers v Gatton Hawks
3.30pm: West End Bulldogs v Souths Tigers
5.30pm: Goodna Eagles v Valleys Roosters