QLD Premier Rugby: Gallopers riding high despite significant changes
By Michael Atkinson
Of the GPS side that lost 23-14 to University of Queensland in the 2017 Premier Rugby Grand Final, only five players are still playing at the club in 2018.
Loose-head prop Laione Mulikihaamea, fly-half AJ Alatimu, and centre Maalonga Konelio have all moved on.
Flanker Waita Setu took a contract in the UK just prior to the ‘GF’ and departed soon after the loss.
Club stalwart Todd Winkley, has turned his focus to work.
And inspirational skipper Dan Gorman, suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason.
That’s not just a few small players in a side that went within a whisker of ending the club’s 21-year premiership drought. They were all genuine superstars in that team.
Yet ‘The Gallopers’ are the only side with two wins after as many rounds this season.
Coach Anthony Mathison and assistant Elwee Prinsloo have once again pulled together a talented squad with a balance of youth, experience, new faces and club favourites.
“Certainly a lot of turnover and new faces which is sometimes the case in club footy after a good year,” Mathison told Rugby News.
“Particularly for our midfield combination, we’ve got a lot of new faces together so the more time they have together, they’ll continue to develop and improve.”
“Jeeps” have brought in new backline stars like Alfonso Horomia from Easts, Tavita Davis and Albert Nikoro.
But the personnel changes have also opened the door for some club juniors and players from the Colts system to make the full-time step up to premier grade.
“The Dan Byrne’s, Connor Cowhig’s, the Pat Nicholson’s, Jono Kent’s, they’re guys who put on a lot pressure on and played a bit of premier grade last year,” Mathison said.
“They’re getting their opportunity now and we’re hopeful they’re going to be putting their hands up consistently.”
And the youngsters are getting some assistance from a few old heads who are still hanging around the fringes.
“We’ve been really fortunate that Gormo (Dan Gorman) and Tommy Christie are still fairly heavily involved (despite their long-term injuries),” revealed Mathison.
“(They’re) pretty much at every training session and we certainly try and engage them and get their input as much as we can.”
In the absence of Gorman, back-rower Michael Richards has taken the captaincy; a veteran at this level, despite being just 25 years old.
Richards will need to lead by example this weekend when his Gallopers face their toughest test of the season so far, taking on the Dragons at Sunnybank.
“We played them quite early on in the trials, and they were definitely quite organised and I thought they were quite well placed even in the trials,” Mathison said.
“They’ve got the potential to be a really strong side and give the competition a good shake.”
“They have a big, physical forward pack and plenty of strike power out wide.”
Mathison and his charges will be aiming to nullify that strike power on Saturday in the Match of the Round, as “Jeeps” look to keep their unbeaten start to 2018 alive.