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REAL NRL: Strong Rebels line-up ready to defend championship crown

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The Newcastle Rebels will unleash a star-studded line-up when it begins its NSWRL Men’s Country Championship title defence this weekend.

With former NRL players Will Smith and Blake Ferguson now participating in the Tooheys Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) Denton Engineering Cup, representative coach Garth Brennan had no hesitation adding the duo to an already-impressive squad.

And, the pair have been named to face the Central Coast Roosters in round one at the Cessnock Sportsground on Saturday 2 March.

Not that Newcastle required any assistance after dominating the format in 2023.

The Newcastle Rebels after winning the 2023 NSWRL Men’s Country Championship.

The A-Plus Contracting-sponsored Rebels accounted for the Roosters 36-14 and Illawarra-South Coast Dragons 30-10 before thrashing the Western Rams 46-18.

In the final at Woy Woy, Newcastle – mentored by Adam Bettridge – easily overpowered the Riverina Bulls 49-16 to claim the spoils, with five-eighth Chad O’Donnell walking away with man of the match honours.

Fittingly, the Maitland Pickers premiership-winner will captain the 2024 outfit again.

“It’s pretty surreal, especially when you see the calibre of players we’ve got,” he said.

“I sort of have a bit of self-doubt every now and then with a couple of the NRL boys there.

“But, still to get that nod [from Garth], it’s really special.

“I hope I can go out there and do a good job for them.”

O’Donnell will be joined by Maitland team-mates Jayden Butterfield, James Taylor and Lincoln Smith, with James Bradley and Gary Anderson unavailable for selection.

Real NRL grand finalists South Newcastle Lions boast four reps, via Lewis Hamilton, Ryan Glanville, Jack Welsh and 18th man Mitch Black.

Also getting the nod were Western Suburbs Rosellas trio Smith, Ben Stone and Liam Wiscombe, Central Newcastle Butcher Boys Cameron Anderson and Nick Ritter, Cessnock Goannas duo Honeti Tuha and Luke Huth, along with Ferguson (Kurri Kurri Bulldogs), Timanu Alexander (Northern Hawks) and Dylan Phythian (Lakes United Seagulls).

“We can’t afford any complacency,” O’Donnell said.

“The Roosters are going to be big and skilful.

“We’ve got the talent in our top side to attack.

“So, I think it’ll just come down to defence, which is a bit of a cliche, but it’s true.”

The encounter kicks off at noon.

In a tribute to the late Leigh Maughan, the Rebels will wear black armbands and observe a minute’s silence on Saturday to pay tribute to his life and service to rugby league

NSWRL Men’s Country Championship

  • Newcastle Rebels (coach Garth Brennan): Cameron Anderson (Central Newcastle Butcher Boys), Honeti Tuha (Cessnock Goannas), Will Smith (Western Suburbs Rosellas), Blake Ferguson (Kurri Kurri Bulldogs), Timanu Alexander (Northern Hawks), Chad O’Donnell (Maitland Pickers), Dylan Phythian (Lakes United Seagulls), Jayden Butterfield (Maitland Pickers), Luke Huth (Cessnock Goannas), James Taylor (Maitland Pickers), Lewis Hamilton (South Newcastle Lions), Lincoln Smith (Maitland Pickers), Ben Stone (Western Suburbs Rosellas); Ryan Glanville (South Newcastle Lions), Jack Welsh (South Newcastle Lions), Liam Wiscombe (Western Suburbs Rosellas), Nick Ritter (Central Newcastle Butcher Boys); 18th man Mitch Black (South Newcastle Lions)
  • Central Coast Roosters: Not available

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