NRC: Aussie 7s stars named in talented Sydney Rays squad

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Three members of the Australian Men’s Sevens side that competed at the Rio Olympics have been named in the  Sydney Rays squad announced today for the 2016 National Rugby Championship season.

Cameron Clark, Con Foley and Tom Cusack have all been brought into a 32-man group by head coach Simon Cron and all will be keen to show their wares in the more populated form of the game in the wake of Rio.

The 23-year-old Clark has been in the Australian Sevens system since he left Knox College in 2011 after representing Aussie Schools with the likes of Sean McMahon and Will Miller.

The son of Fox Sports commentator Greg, he was born in Auckland and has been a lynchpin of the men’s Sevens side for much of the past three years. Clark will get a chance at some of the back three spots with the Rays but he can also play in the midfield.

Foley, 24, is a midfield back who has represented Australia at Under 19 and Under 20 level as well as Sevens. Interestingly his flatmate at Queenscliff on Sydney’s northern beaches is his Rays’ captain Matt Lucas.

The 23-year-old Cusack is a rangy backrower who weighs in at 102kg and will add skill, size and pace to the Rays’ legion of backrowers.

A former student at Marist College in Canberra, he has represented Australia at Schools, Under 19 and Under 20 level.

Coach Cron says mobility, skill and cohesion will be essential if the Rays are going to get their season off on the right foot on August 28.

“The fast nature of the way the NRC is played means you’ve got to have players who are fit and mobile,” he says. “And a big engine is essential to the way I want us to play the game.

“At the same time all our players need to have the skill to play right across the park and open up their teammates on the outside.

“The combinations that many of the players have worked on at Shute Shield level is going to be vitally important too. We’ve got to have as many functioning combinations as possible with only a couple of weeks to kickoff.

“We also need to have a similar mentality about the quality of our training and out work rate. It’s not going to be easy but if we apply ourselves the rewards will come.”

The squad will be led by livewire NSW Waratahs and Manly Marlins scrumhalf Matt Lucas, who has been in Rio supporting his gold medal winning partner Alicia Quirk.

As you would expect there is a large influx of players from Cron’s Shute Shield winning Northern Suburbs side headed by Ken Catchpole winner Will Miller.

What a great couple of weeks it has been for Miller who will play a key role in the way that this side goes about it’s business.

Miller played the first two years of the NRC with the NSW Country Eagles and excelled but has followed Cron to the Rays in the hope of finally cracking it for a contract with one of the Super Rugby franchises.

Ezra Luxton, Angus Ta’avao, Lawrance Hunting, Nick Palmer (also across from the NSW Country Eagles), Michael Smith, Hugh and Angus Sinclair along with Michael Wells, Irae Simone, Michael Dowsett and the lightning fast Richard Woolf have all been handed chances at this level.

The search for a solid scrum anchor, so often the Rays’ undoing in 2014 and 2015, has struck gold with Ta’avao coming into the squad from the NSW Waratahs and Norths.

Damien Fitzpatrick is another fascinating story in this group, returning to Australia after three years in France with Lyon.

Fitzpatrick made his Super Rugby debut with the Waratahs as a teenager in 2009 and has come back home for what could be called some unfinished business.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika met with Fitzpatrick after the Rugby World Cup last year and Fitzpatrick will use the NRC as a springboard on to greater things.

The Super Rugby contracted players in the group are Ta’avao, Jack Dempsey, Wells, Fitzpatrick and Lucas.

Cron will name another prop, a third hooker and a number of players in a wider training group in coming days.

The Rays will kick off their season at North Sydney Oval on Sunday August 28 at 1pm. Their other homes games in 2016 will be at NSW on Friday September 2 at 6.30pm and then Pittwater Rugby Park on Saturday September 17 and October 1.

THE SQUAD:

FORWARDS: Rory O’Connor (Warringah), Ezra Luxton (Northern Suburbs), Angus Ta’avao (NSW Waratahs/Northern Suburbs), Lawrance Hunting (Northern Suburbs), Damien Fitzpatrick (NSW Wartahs/Eastwood), James Hilterbrand (Manly), Nick Palmer (Northern Suburbs), Adrian Hall (Manly), James Brown (Northern Suburbs), Angus Ryan (Southern Districts), Jack Dempsey (NSW Waratahs/Gordon), Harry Bergelin (Manly), Tom Cusack (Aust Sevens), Will Miller (Northern Suburbs), Michael Smith (Northern Suburbs), Michael Wells (NSW Waratahs/Northern Suburbs), Hugh Sinclair (Northern Suburbs).

BACKS: Matt Lucas (NSW Waratahs/Manly), Michael Dowsett (Northern Suburbs), Dewett Roos (Southern Districts), Sam Lane (Manly), Angus Sinclair (Northern Suburbs), Harry Jones (Warringah), Tyson Davis (Warringah), Irae Simone (Northern Suburbs), Con Foley (Aust Sevens), Seb Wileman (Warringah), Dennis Pili-Gaitau (Manly), Richard Woolf (Northern Suburbs), Cameron Clark (Aust Sevens), Josh Turner (Manly), Johnathan Malo (Eastwood).

WALLABY AMBASSADORS: Michael Hooper (Manly), Rob Horne (Southern Districts)