LIMITING CSU’s opportunities with the ball will be the key to the Steamers starting their Walsh & Blair Cup campaign with a win, says Blake Le Cornu.
The blue and golds come up against the side that earlier this year inflicted its first defeat at Murrayfield since 2012 when it travels to the Beres Ellwood Oval in Wagga today.
It is also the first round in the top-tier, six team second round.
The Reddies are coming off two consecutive losses, while the Steamers were impressive in the second half in the cold and wet last week against Temora.
But inside centre le Cornu is not reading much into the form line.
“They are a little like us, they don’t have one or two big blokes smashing it up but rely on a mobile back and super quick backs,” he said.
“We can’t afford to give away silly penalties because if they get a roll on they can hurt on the scoreboard very quickly.
“If we play our game, and there have been signs we have turned the corner in recent weeks, then that should be enough to win.”
Le Cornu, who was “Mr Versatile” during the Steamers undefeated 2013, says he can’t remember enjoying his rugby more.
“I think it is the best I’ve been at this time of year for a long time —just injury free and enjoying the challenge,” he said.
“I have been playing regularly at inside centre and I think everyone took time to re-adjust to the new combinations after losing so many players from last year.
“We were still running our normal pattern but there hadn’t been a lot of clean ball for the backs but in recent weeks that has started to change.”
Le Cornu returned to the Steamers at the start of last season after a six-month stint playing for Biggar in Scotland’s Premier 1 league.
He said the development of players at Murrayfield in the past 12 months and the arrival of fresh faces would help them in their quest for back-to-back premierships.
“Ash Lefevre has become a dominant forward in the competition, a real powerhouse,” he said.
“And then we have picked up prop Arran MacDougall from England — he doesn’t carry the size of a House but he’s a smart footballer, able to take on the defence and pop a ball to his support players.
“Sam Allen is likely to come in at fullback as well this weekend.
“He was always silky when he played here before but he has bulked up while he has been away at uni and is a much better player.
“We’re staring to look good.”
Last 5 - Griffith(A), Steamers(A), CSU, Tumut, Ag College(A)
THE EXPERT: Having beaten Reddies convincingly last week they are entitled to be competition favourites. There are very few weaknesses in their game but when they are at their best the forwards, driven by No.8 Jake Eaglesham, are their platform. They are also outstanding at pressuring other sides into making mistakes and then capitalising on those errors. Their only loss of the year was when they were run down by Albury in the first round but there are plenty in the rugby community saying they got out of jail against Temora and City in recent weeks.
Last 5 - Steamers, Ag College, Waratahs(A), Griffith, Tumut(A)
THE EXPERT: Having been the first team to win at Murrayfield in three seasons when they beat the Steamers earlier this year the Reddies appear to have lost heir way in failing against Temora and Waratahs. Even those at the club admit they haven’t been able to adjust to the wet weather. Their forwards are not their strength. They want to throw the ball wide to capitalise on speed but in heavy conditions and with a slippery ball that has proven ineffective. If they lose this weekend they could find themselves in a dog-fight for the final two spots.
Last 5 - CSU(A), Waratahs, Tumut, Ag College(A), Griffith(A)
THE EXPERT: Many expected the Steamers to struggle in the wake of player losses after a stellar year in 2013. But the fact that they have “been there, done that” is in their favour, while any side with Richard Manion has to be a danger and Ash Lefevre is another who is a quality player. There were also big wraps on prop Arran MacDougall after the rep weekend and they still have an inspirational captain in Nathan Bright. If they can get that game plan going they will be hard to beat. But the biggest challenge could come in the last round against Griffith away.
Last 5 - Ag College, Griffith*, Steamers(A), Waratahs(A), CSU
* To be played in Wagga
THE EXPERT: Some would say the big improvers, the giant killers of the competition. But the reality is the Bulls wanted to be better, wanted to play in the top-tier, so they locked in a tough pre-season and recruited. Traditionally they have been slow starters but this year they were up and about early. The inclusion of a quality five-eight in New Zealander Tino Manuelvao, centre Scott Gibson and fullback Justin Shortis give them outstanding running backs. A lot of people are putting Tumut in the same category as Albury — write them off at your own risk.
Last 5 - Waratahs, Tumut*, Ag College, CSU(A), Steamers
* To be played in Wagga
THE EXPERT: The one-time premiership favourites haven’t exactly been a model of consistency this year — after six rounds they were undefeated but then lost fullback Dan Rawaqa in the first 15 minutes against Waratahs and lost 50-12. It started a downhill slide that has only been arrested in the past couple of weeks. You still can’t write them off. Rawaqa is the key, the former Fijian international who played fullback at Parramatta last year, is worth 10 points to them every time he takes to the park. Another kind draw with three home games will help.
Last 5 - Tumut(A), CSU(A), Griffith(A), Steamers, Waratahs
THE EXPERT: Will probably struggle in the top tier.
The win over Tumut came as a shock to most but meant there was little to play for when they took on City in the last round, so that loss wasn’t unexpected. The loss of no.8 Dave Armstrong to Waratahs and a number of experienced players has seen Ag College revert to its roots — back to their kids as the backbone of the side and they will struggle against the seasoned, bigger bodies in the second half of the year. The draw too hasn’t been kind with their first three games as the away side.