NRC: Sydney Rays squad starting to take shape
By Mark Cashman
THE Sydney Rays squad for the looming National Rugby Championship is starting to take shape with several key men committing to the 2017 campaign.
Manly Marlins Sam Lane, Josh Turner, Harry Bergelin, Alex Westgarth (pictured above) and James Hilterbrand have all signed on the dotted line to play for the Rays.
For head coach Julian Huxley it’s a huge fillip as dives head first into preparations for the NRC season after his club side Penrith finished their Shute Shield commitments at the weekend.
Huxley has been working on 2017 recruitment with Coaching Director Simon Cron and he has been pleased with the returns in what is a very competitive market.
Others to put their hand up include the Shute Shield’s leading try scorer, Paula Balekana from the Gordon club.
Balekana scored an incredible 22 tries throughout the Highlanders’ improving season and has featured in several five pointers that have been described as amongst the best ever scored on the Sydney club scene.
Guy Porter, a centre and fullback who plays for Sydney Uni, is another to agree to terms with the Rays and Huxley believes he’s ready for the next step.
Porter’s progress in recent season has been checked by a couple of injuries but he’s come through that and is quick off the mark having recorded a 40m personal best of 4.8sec.
Westgarth, a 27-year-old tighthead prop, comes to the Rays with huge wraps after coming to the Marlins at the start of the year.
The former England Students representative has anchored the Manly scrum all season and is one of the reasons why they finished the regular Shute Shield season as runaway minor premiers.
The Rays will also pick up a number of players from the NSW Waratahs with players like Irae Simone, Damien Fitzpatrick, Cam Clark, Michael Wells and Bryce Hegarty assigned.
Huxley said: ““I’m really pleased with how the squad is coming together. Players like Paula Balekana, Alex Westgarth, and Guy Porter all have tremendous strengths to their game.
“The NRC is about these players developing their game against Super Rugby players at a higher level.’
“I’m also very keen to get my hands on our Waratah boys. Irae Simone was the best 12 in the country at the end of last year’s NRC, I can’t wait to work with him again.
“Bryce Hegerty also brings a lot of class to the team which will be invaluable.
“We have great players but more than that, they are great people. I look forward to pushing the boundaries with them to make them better players, but also in enjoying each other’s company and being driven collectively by a love of the game.”
The Rays kick off their season with a huge Sydney derby against the Western Sydney Rams on Sunday September 10 at Macquarie Uni.
The NRC fixture is the culmination of a huge Festival of Rugby at the university which will involve the staging of the second round of the Aon Uni7s Series.
The Rays are fielding a team in the women’s series and that team’s preparations for the start of their season are already well advanced.
The final squad will be finalised closer to the end of the Shute Shield finals series that involves three of the four foundation clubs – Manly, Northern Suburbs and Warringah.