Steamers’ fountain of youth

GENERATION next.

That’s the tagline on the 2014 Steamers as the defending premiers launch their campaign with a grand final replay against Waratahs at the Connolly Rugby Complex in Wagga today.

This year’s playing group is, on average, about eight years younger than the side that flogged the Tahs 41-7 in the decider.

Eleven players from that grand final have moved on or hung up the boots.

The Welsh connection of Scott Meakins and James Olds has headed to Canberra, halfback Sandy Middleton is back at the Waratahs.

But coach Mick Raines believed the natural development of promising juniors and off-season recruits would again make them a factor in the competition.

He said there won’t be wholesale changes to their style of play but admitted the reliance on brute strength would make way for mobility.

Raines will draw on the experience of grand final heroes Nathan Bright, Ryan Schischka, Liam Krautz and Ash Le Fevre in the forwards, while last year’s player of the competition Richard Manion and Blake Le Cornu will take leadership roles in the backs.

He expected recruits Lucas Boyes at halfback and Brad Nayler in the centres along with breakaway Dan Herden, in his second year at the club, would also play key roles.

“It’s a young group but the signs were positive coming out of the pre-season tournament last week,” Raines said.

“We’ll take time to gel but we made dramatic improvement in just four halves of football in losing to Waratahs and then beating Griffith.

“We spent a lot of last week working on combinations, experimenting with players.

“But this is a side that will grow with game time — the average age has dropped from 32 to down to about 24 from last year — so it’s just a matter of taking each game as it comes.

“But we will have to lean quite heavily on some of the older heads — Ryan Schischka and Tom Rowan are going to be pretty important, while Blake Le Cornu will take on more responsibility in the backs.”

Raines said the player turnover might see a change of tactics.

“The plan from the last two years is quite solid but it might just be a matter of tweaking it to suit this group,” he said.

“Last year’s pack were physically dominant close to the ruck but we are going to be more mobile across the paddock.

“What we sacrifice in brute strength we gain from mobility.

“There’s no point sending a smaller team into the battle and trying to bash their way around the corner if they can spread it 10 metres wider and stretch the defence.”

Raines dismissed the notion of a premiership hangover.

“If the players from last year had played on it might have been an issue,” he said.

“But because of the turnover we lost that history.

“For all intents and purpose this is a new team.”

Raines admitted playing last year’s beaten grand finalists and premiership favourites Waratahs in the opening round was a baptism of fire.

“At this stage from what I’ve seen and read the Waratahs and Reddies are the two teams to beat — CSU will be fast and the Tahs will rely on their forwards,” he said.

“But we have started to hit our straps at training and while a game is a very different thing we are going to Wagga thinking we can win.”

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