Gunnedah will have nine players making their Central North debuts for the Red Devils when they tackle Moree at home on Saturday.
Matt Paradesi, Brendon Willoughby, Isaac Scholes, Sam Casey, Will Archer, Sanimo Navatu, Zac Harris, Peter Ford and Aisea Raitala will all run out in Gunnedah colours for the first time.
“Unfortunately we’re still missing some big guns,” coach Jason Waerea said.
Josh Leys and Jeremy Brown are both tied up with work commitments.
Even still, Waerea said they couldn’t be better prepared. They’ve trained well and looked good in their recent trial at Barraba, with Archer and Navatu two of their standouts.
“The biggest thing we have this year is we have a nine that can train and run with us,” he said referring to New Zealand recruit Harris.
“He provided a lot of space and direction for the forwards, which helped us immensely.”
Waerea was on the whole really impressed with their aggressive defence, and will be looking for a repeat on Saturday. He also noted their fitness, which was a big focus through the pre-season, and showed through in their communication.
Perennial finalists, the Red Devils are welcoming the challenge against the Bulls.
“It will see where we are,” club captain and second rower Matt Roseby said.
“Everyone is keen as mustard. There’s been plenty of chatter at training about getting the top four sides early.”
It is also a chance to make a statement.
“We want to show we are premiership contenders. We’re not just there to make up the numbers,” he said.