WHEN Villages United first started to think about a campaign in the 2015 New Era Cup competition, a weakened financial position and lack of numbers had them in real danger of having to withdraw.
But since then things have improved. Improved greatly.
Villages signed former Group 10 players Jarrod Gafa and Kris Kennedy to act as co-coaches and together they not only helped with fundraising, but brought with them a number of new recruits.
Villages won the pre-season New Era Cup knockout competition and on the back of that performance, had five players selected in the competition’s representative side – the two coaches plus Brendan Edwards, Daniel Kennedy and Jamie Crawford.
For a club which won just one game in 2014, the mood amongst the squad could not be more positive as they look to tomorrow’s season opener against the Orange Barbarians.
Kris Kennedy, whose only previous coaching experience was with an under 10s side, is enjoying his new role. He and Gafa have had their squad training for more than two months in preparation for the season.
“I knew they were struggling last year, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to help them out and have a go at coaching,” he said.
“Playing with your mates, it has given me a bit more passion for the game. I have been playing for a long time, but having your mates here and coaching makes you a bit more interested in winning.
“I played with Pat’s last year in reserves and Panthers before that for about five years.”
Gafa has actually worn the blue and maroon colours of Villages United before, but that was only for a handful of games last season.
This year he is committed to giving his all for Villages as he aims to see them go from competition strugglers to heavyweights.
“I played a few games for them last year, I helped out and filled in, but I wanted to help them turn things around this year,” he said.
“I played for Panthers for four years, but broke my hand in the grand final when we played Pat’s, so I was out for a bit after that.
“I filled in for a few games for these guys last year and this year I just wanted to help get the club on the right foot.”
As well as the likes of Gafa and Kennedy, Villages’ 2015 squad includes plenty of other men who bring the experience of playing in Group 10 with them.
Eric Hall impressed as halfback during the knockout, then there are the likes of Adrian Averio, Brad McConnell, Tom Loader and Jason Roche who the co-coaches will have at their disposal.
Their prior experience will help, but Gafa points out the New Era Cup brings with it new challenges.
“It is maybe not as skilful as Group 10, but it is a lot tougher and rougher, “ he said.
“Mainly defence wins this competition, the points come naturally.
“A lot of teams will be a lot stronger than they were last year too. I reckon there are four teams who are a good chance of winning it – hopefully we are one of the four, then uni [CSU], Blackheath and the Bears.
“After we won the cup [knockout] we said ‘That’s one trophy, we have one more to get’.”
While Villages, who are sponsored by Paddy’s Hotel, are yet to negotiate a home ground with Bathurst Regional Council, tomorrow’s match will be played at Orange’s Max Stewart Park.
For CSU, who will be fielding two teams in this year’s competition, season 2015 gets underway with a club derby as Yellow faces Blue at Diggings Oval from 2.30pm.