GUNGADAI coach James Smart has played down the significance of the absence of star Albury Thunder duo Willie Heta and Mark Walsham in tomorrow’s Group 9 clash at Greenfield Park.
Smart said yesterday he expected Ben Jeffery and Lou Goodwin to comfortably slot into the five-eighth and hooker positions like they did in the second-half of last weekend’s thumping of Tumut.
“Obviously they will miss Willie’s kicking game the most, but I assume Lou Goodwin and Ben Jeffery will step up,” Smart said.
“They aren’t bad replacements.
“It won’t affect them too much.
“I expect Albury to roll up the middle through their strong forward pack like they do every week and then they have guys in the backs who will take advantage of that roll on.
“They won’t change too much from what has worked for them.”
Heta, who captained the group’s representative team earlier this season, is one of the favourites for the Eric Weissel medal while Walsham remains one of the most underrated players in the competition coming out of dummy half.
Both have ruled themselves unavailable.
While Albury will be desperate to win to stitch up the minor premiership with three rounds remaining, Smart warned the Tigers had improved since their last meeting at Gundagai.
The return of key player Brett Eccleston from injury will only bolster their chances.
“We are in a good position to come down to Albury,” Smart said.
“We have been turning up with the right attitude every week and are a lot stronger defensively since we played Albury in round 1.
“A few positional changes have been made as well which seem to be working.”
A bumper crowd is expected for the battle between the first and third-placed teams with Albury holding a reunion of former players, officials and supporters from the Albury Blues and Albury Roos eras.
Many will gather tonight at Greenfield Park from 6pm to kick off festivities.