Dave Young leaps in the lineout for the Water Rats against Casino.
Dave Young leaps in the lineout for the Water Rats against Casino.

Historical game for Water Rats

FOR Ian “Scotty” McLellan, this Saturday will be more than just a rugby union game.

This weekend the Water Rats will take on the Goondiwindi Emus at home in A-grade for the first time for a number of years.

The first match of the Risdon Cup, which A-grade teams across the Darling Downs have competed for since 1964, was played at Risdon Oval between Warwick and Goondiwindi.

McLellan – a lifelong Warwick and District Rugby Union Club supporter and player – was at that game as a 14-year-old Scots College student, and he said it was “just brilliant” that the Water Rats would be able to play Goondiwindi in A-grade again.

“Hopefully we can perform, we need a bit more experience in our team in the forwards and the backs, but hopefully we can step up,” he said.

“Warwick has been unable to field a team twice before, in 1978 we never formed and then again in 1984. After the good period we had through the 90s and into the 2000s I thought it would never happen again, so it was very disappointing.”

Warwick was unable to field any team in the Darling Downs Rugby Union competition in 2008, but last year re-entered by merging with the University of Southern Queensland as the club’s B-grade side.

Warwick made the finals and finished fourth.

“We won the Risdon Cup in the first year but haven’t won it since,” McLellan said.

“Oh Warwick can do it again one day, we went damn close in 2000 when we made the grand final. We beat Goondiwindi in the major semi-final to go straight into the grand final, but when we met Gundy again in the grand final they beat us.”

Warwick and Goondiwindi will play for the George Pippos Trophy, which Goondiwindi currently holds.

Last year Goondiwindi won the premiership in A and B-grade, and A-grade captain/coach Andrew Macpherson said the goal was to do the same this year.

“The only game we dropped last year was the major semi-final,” he said.

“It would be nice (to go undefeated this season) but it does apply a lot of pressure at the end of the season to perform. At the end of the day it comes down to that last game.”

This will be Macpherson’s first year as a coach, and he said it would be a challenge to try and maintain the hugely successful run Goondiwindi has had in recent years.

Celebrated flanker Mark Jekyll has retired this year and 2009 captain/coach Andrew McKinnon will play for Toowoomba City Bears after moving to the Garden City for work.

Macpherson said it was fantastic that Warwick was back in the Darling Downs A grade competition.

“It’s really good, quite a lot of teams have stepped up this year and it has strengthened the A-grade competition on the Downs,” he said.

“I’ve been involved with Gundy for four years, and in that time Warwick has been a bit in and out.”

After defeating Highfields at the weekend in B grade (43-7) and drawing 24-all in C grade, this will be the Emus’ first A grade game of the season.

“We are still sort of trying some new positions... we’ve been reasonably lucky during the off-season and have picked up some new players,” Macpherson said.

Warwick coach John O’Leary said the Water Rats would this week be focusing on defence at training after going down 46-14 to the Dalby Wheatmen in the first round. This will be the Rats’ first home game of the season.

“We’ve improved muchly from the Casino trial game and we just want to keep working on some of the core skills and work as a group, not as individuals,” he said.

“We will just be fine-tuning the side this week; there will be a couple of different selections in A grade which will be confirmed on Thursday night at training when the A grade team is announced. A number of players that played B grade last year are finding that the quality of A grade is another thing altogether.”

O’Leary said now the Water Rats had played the first game in A grade, things should be a bit easier from here on in.

“I think we’ll play better and we’ll be more confident; we know what we’re up for,” he said.

“We hadn’t played any contact rugby against an opposition for three to four weeks until Dalby, so we’ll be more match fit.”

He said the goal for the season was to be as competitive as possible in A and B grades.

“Our general aim is to be competitive and for people to gain experience in A grade and for the club to become used to playing A and B grade,” he said.

“Then building into 2011 we want to develop a group of core local players. The ability is here in town it’s just that people are getting a real look at what it takes to play A grade, it’s not just turning up.

“This is going to be a three-to-five-year plan for us to be a rugby stronghold on the Downs again and we’re going to do it, it’s just not going to be an overnight thing.”

The Water Rats will take on the Emus at Risdon Oval, Warwick on Saturday. B grade will play at 1.30pm before the main A grade game at 3pm.

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