By BRETT KEEBLE
WHAT the First Nations Goannas will lack in experience against the Newcastle Knights at Hunter Stadium on Saturday, they will more than make up for with enthusiasm.
That is the opinion of Goannas coach Laurie Daley, who was excited about and impressed by the skills his mostly unheralded players demonstrated at their first training run together at a sun-drenched Dudley Oval yesterday morning.
‘‘They were very good, very enthusiastic and very excited, so hopefully that will be the theme for the rest of the week,’’ Daley said.
‘‘There will be plenty of talent on show on Saturday night, most definitely.
‘‘The skills were awesome out there today. They all have that great catch and pass, they can all run, so we’re all looking forward to it. It should be good.
‘‘I haven’t seen a lot of the boys play live but I’ve watched a few of them on DVD, and they’ve all got plenty of talent.’’
The game between the Goannas and the Knights will be the highlight of this week’s Festival of Indigenous Rugby League in Newcastle, which for this year at least has replaced the pre-season exhibition match the NRL and Indigenous All Stars have played for the past four seasons.
The Goannas include former Knights NSW Cup half Adrian Davis, Canberra Raiders prospect Brenko Lee and former Central Newcastle players James Livock and Bobby Nona.
Daley has included former NRL players David Peachey, Nathan Blacklock, Rod Jensen and Dennis Moran to complement his squad chosen from players who stood out at the annual Koori Knockout (NSW) and Murri Carnival (Queensland) last October and September.
The coach said many of his players still had aspirations to play in the NRL, and a stand-out performance against the Knights on Saturday would attract attention from talent scouts.
‘‘The boys have been with different NRL clubs last week, so to get an opportunity to play in this game against the Knights will be a special thrill for them,’’ Daley said.
‘‘Some guys are at different ends of their careers but some of them still want to be a part of the NRL system, so this is a good opportunity to go out and present a case as to why they should be still playing in the NRL.
‘‘They’ve all been through a system in the past – a junior club, or a NSW or Queensland Cup club – but they just haven’t gone to that next level, but they haven’t given up on their dream of doing that.’’
Daley has enlisted the support of former internationals and premiership-winners including Wendell Sailor, Cliff Lyons and Gorden Tallis to help guide the Goannas this week.
Sailor and Lyons were in the thick of things at training yesterday, and they joined Daley and the players for a team dinner at Hamilton last night.
Knights coach Wayne Bennett is not expected to name many of his senior players and regular first-graders when he announces his team today, though there was speculation yesterday that Indigenous players Tyrone Roberts and Travis Waddell could be included.
Bennett has coached the NRL squad in all four All Stars games to date and is a strong supporter of the concept.
The Goannas squad is: Joshua Benjamin, James Livock (Ngalpun); Malcolm Congoo (Argun Warriors); Davin Crampton (Mindaribba); Adrian Davis, Bobby Nona, Brenko Lee (Yowies); Phil Dennis, Reggie Saunders, Javarn White, Rex Johnson (Dingoes); Roy Smith, Kareel Phillips (Redfern All Blacks); Matthew Pittman (Narwan OBC); Noel Underwood (Yarrabah); Kieran Vale (Dhungutti), David Peachey, Nathan Blacklock, Rod Jensen (Cairns), Dennis Moran (Parkes).