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Newcastle Rebels keen to tame Western Rams

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The Western Rams stand between the Newcastle Rebels and a berth in the 2023 NSWRL Men’s Country Championship decider.

The two rugby league powerhouses will face off in the knockout tournament’s semi-final, from 1.10pm, at Collegians Sports Ground on Sunday 19 March.

It comes after the Novocastrians put the Central Coast Roosters to the sword 36-14 and backed up last weekend to eliminate the Illawarra South Coast Dragons 30-10 from the race.

“They were a good side,” Rebels coach Adam Bettridge conceded.

“The Dragons came out nice and physical, we realised we were in a battle at half-time, that’s for sure.

“But, we knew they’d be quality.

“That’s a very strong competition down there, with a lot of ex-NRL and NSW Cup players, as well as blokes who’ve been in systems.

“So, we were well aware travelling to Illawarra that it was going to be an extremely hard game.

“And, we got exactly what we thought we would.”

Maitland Pickers’ James Bradley scored two tries, set up another, made two line breaks and ran 225m in the Newcastle Rebels’ victory over the Illawarra South Coast Dragons. Photo: Rod Thompson

The Dragons led 4-2 at the break before the Rebels flexed their collective muscle to run in five tries in the second stanza.

It was an effort, which put a big smile on Bettridge’s face.

“Prop Jimmy Taylor was enormous,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“He had 21 carries, ran for 204m and his tackle efficiency was high.

“Buttsy (Jayden Butterfield) was the same.

“They were great up front; they’re very consistent and they push each other along.

“In fact, I thought our right edge – Chad O’Donnell, Lincoln Smith, Gary Anderson and James Bradley – was outstanding.

“For me, Gazza (Anderson) was man of the match… I gave him my coach’s award.

“He made some really good defensive decisions, which were critical throughout the game.

“James is a finisher and he proved that yet again.

“He picked up two tries, set up another, made two line breaks, and ran 225m.

“I thought those boys were really good.”

Bettridge did, however, single out South Newcastle’s Ryan Glanville.

“I have to give credit to him, especially coming off the bench,” he said.

“He changed the way the match was played in that back end of the first period.

“Ryan gave the Dragons plenty of trouble in the middle with his leg speed around the ruck and his unique skill set.

“I was very pleased with him.

“We had a plan during the week to put him on around the halves.

“But, at the time, we needed to alter our point of attack in the opening 40 because we were going sideways.

“And, Ryan rectified that and directed them.”

Despite a few bumps and bruises in the camp, Bettridge expects the same outfit to tackle the Rams.

“There’s no major dramas,” he said.

“Luke Higgins suffered a slight ankle injury but he’s pulled up fine.

“The only thing we’re changing up is our travel plans.

“We’ll go down the night before this week – and prepare for a very tough game against a really good opposition who won impressively in round one.”

Bettridge was referring to Western’s massive 64-18 thumping of the Northern Tigers.

“They’re very skilful, they have points all across the park,” he said.

“The front-rower Jack Kavanagh goes really well.

“He’s played a bit of Queensland Cup, he’s very aggressive and big through the middle.

“We’ll need to keep a close eye on him.

“The Rams are smart out wide, too.

“Centre Jeremy Thurston scored six tries in their previous clash.

“So, that will be a good test for Gary (Anderson).

“Then you have Mitch Andrews at fullback.

“He’s also played at the highest level in Newcastle, in the NSW Cup and Jersey Flegg.

“I see a side that looks like it really wants to be out there.

“They’re not just making up the numbers.

“I know they’re pretty confident in the squad they’ve got.

“So, it will be a good contest.

“Western Division is traditionally strong.

“Having Newcastle back in the Country Championship also adds to the atmosphere.

“We’re looking forward to the encounter; it should be a great game of footy.

“And, hopefully, we’ll get the result and move through to the grand final.”

The winner of Sunday’s clash meets either the Riverina Bulls or Northern Rivers Titans in the finale.

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