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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Tigers cub primed to pounce once more

Tigers Lincon Smith and Daniel Hoogerwerf offer contrasting mindsets as they prepare for this weekend’s important opening Country Championships match against Newcastle in Cessnock.

Smith, 22, is a young gun who was an important cog in Gunnedah’s charge to a Group 4 grand final in 2018.

That was a game they nearly won, too, except for some Scott Blanch brilliance in saving a couple of tries for the North Tamworth Bears and their eventual victory at Jack Woolaston Oval.

Ironically, Blanch is the skipper of Saturday’s Greater Northern Tigers side – and a pivotal player in their ranks.

So, too, is Smith.

He’s one of the few big men in the Tigers pack.

He used to be bigger as well, a whole lot bigger in fact.

“I was 135kg in that grand final,” Smith recalled after Saturday’s training session at Jack Woolaston Oval.

“I’m now 108kg.”

The weight drop is noticeable, giving the young prop a physical presence that suggests losing the “puppy fat” might be the making of a representative forward.

“Boxing and footy training,” he said.

Obviously a lot of boxing and training effort and a commitment to make himself a better player, not that he shirked his job when much bigger.

He played for more than 60 minutes in that 2018 grand final loss to the Bears but is determined to make a bigger impression with both the Gunnedah Bulldogs and GN Tigers in 2021.

While Group 4 sat out last season and played just the WEG 9s in November, Smith heeded a call from former Aberdeen Tigers coach Mark Wilton to join the Cessnock Goannas in the Newcastle Rugby League (Real NRL) competition.

“I played every game but then missed the major semi and grand final,” he said.

That still prickles as he wasn’t injured.

Hoogerwerf, on the other hand, was going to coach Aberdeen again in 2020 but when Group 21 abandoned its premiership season he donned a South Newcastle jumper in the Real NRL.

“We lost the grand final to Cessnock,” he said.

That Smith didn’t play in that game was criminal, he thought, of how a young player was ripped off.

Hoogerwerf, 31, will captain-coach Aberdeen again this season.

He’s the son of former Group 21 star, Jason Hoogerwerf, who also played three years in the NRL with St George and Newcastle Knights.

A big prop he was always in the thick of everything.

That’s how Hoogerwerf likes to play as well.

Normally a hooker, he finds himself at lock for the Tigers.

“Our trial was a bit sloppy,” he said of the recent loss to Newcastle in the wet at Dudley.

“The weather didn’t help and they had a lot bigger pack.”

A boilermaker by trade, he’s currently a supervisor at MMS Engineering at Muswellbrook and hoping to lead two sets of Tigers to victory – Aberdeen as well as Greater Northern.

He’s enjoyed success with Aberdeen, too, captain-coaching them to a 38-12 win over the Muswellbrook Rams in 2017.

He’s also endured some GF losses as well, in 2016 and then 2018, the latter a 10-6 loss to Scone that still remains in Hoogerwerf’s head.

His side led that match until Thoroughbreds fullback Hayden Topliss scored a 75th minute try to edge out the Tigers on their home at McKinnon Field.

That Hoogerwerf also played in last year’s GF loss to Cessnock is something he remembers with disappointment and still rankles him to no end.

It fires him up plenty to succeed in both the Country Championships and Group 21 competition.

He laughs about his new position as a 13 (lock) and not a 9 (hooker).

“I started out at hooker then went to lock,” he said of this season’s representative trial.

“I don’t mind it.

“You’ve got to work hard anywhere.”

Like Smith, he’s charged with enthusiasm to overcome a much bigger foe at Cessnock on Saturday 27 February and lead the Tigers to an upset win.

It is a big day for the Greater Northern sides with all four playing at Cessnock, the under-16s and under-18s in fourth round Andrew Johns Cup and Laurie Daley Cup fixtures, and the senior men and women in Country Cup clashes.

  • by Geoff Newling

GREATER NORTHERN TIGERS: 1 Mitch Doring (Manilla), 2 Tex Lagmiri (North Tamworth), 3 Reece Jaeger (Gunnedah), 4 Harlee Millgate (Werris Creek), 5 Kieren Williams (Werris Creek), 6 Scott Blanch (capt), 7 Scott Briggs (Muswellbrook), 8 Adam Grew (Muswellbrook), 9 Jake Hawkins (Singleton), 10 Lincon Smith (Gunnedah), 11 Brady Benkovic (Denman), 12 Brett Jarrett (Dungowan), 13 Daniel Hoogerwerf (Aberdeen); 14 Fraser Evans (Dungowan), 15 Jayden Rosberg (Muswellbrook), 16 TBA, 17 TBA, 18 Adam Swadling (Aberdeen). Coach – Brad McManus (North Tamworth), assistant coach Richard Ingram (North Tamworth)