ARMIDALE Blues player-coach Mike Te Moana has been rewarded for his impressive form with selection in the NSW Country side to take on Sydney City tomorrow.
Dominant performances for the NSW Cockatoos this season have given Te Moana another opportunity to prove his ability at a higher level after he missed last year’s Shute Shield with a knee injury.
He will play alongside several of his Cockatoos team-mates, with most of their forward pack being chosen in the 24-man Country squad.
But the powerful number eight joins Gordon/Robb College’s Ron Hobden as the only New England representatives.
There has been a lack of local players qualifying for state squads in recent seasons and Te Moana told The Express he hopes their selections will help put Armidale rugby “back out there”.
“We had five blokes in the Country side one year, I think it was back in 2009, so we’ve had some reasonable turnouts at this level in the past,” he said.
“But New England has been pretty low in numbers for Country rugby for a while now.
“I think it just goes in stages; a lot of colleges have gone through rebuilding periods in the last few years but I think they’ve developed some good players and they’re slowly coming back.
“There are quite a few players in our local competition now who easily have the potential to play Country.”
Despite having to leave his club commitments behind, Te Moana said he is looking forward to playing at a higher level and learning new ways of approaching the game.
“I don’t think it’s good that we go away for these matches and we’re not here playing for the club,” he said.
“But the coaches at that level teach you a lot and obviously you learn from being alongside such quality players.
“So it’s good to come back and be able to incorporate that knowledge into training.”
Te Moana will hope his experience benefits the Blues as he prepares to return to a New England competition that currently has no clear favourite.
He admitted it is “anybody’s game at this stage” and said the four teams in the competition are the “strongest sides Armidale have had for a while”.
Local rugby has a two-week break, resuming on June 23.
Tomorrow’s NSW Country-Sydney City match will be televised on ABC1 from 3pm.
NSW Country Gold squad:
AJ Gilbert, Northern Suburbs/ Dorrigo; Alex Gibbon, Southern Districts/Wollongbar; Billy Johnston, Colleagues/ Wollongbar; Damien Reti, Manly/Tamworth Pirates; Donny Nepia, Wollongong Uni; Gavin Holder, Camden; Harry Bennett, Eastern Suburbs/ Scone; Jacob Robinson, Lennox Head; James Smith, Northern Suburbs/ Shoalhaven; Jeff Wilson, Lennox Head; Joey Lynch, Southern Districts/ Maitland; Josh Stewart, Tamworth Pirates; Kevin McNamara, Warnervale; Liam Walker, Northern Suburbs/ Taree; Mick Snowden, Eastwood/Tamworth Pirates; Mike Te Moana, Armidale; Pat Dellit, Eastern Suburbs/ Maitland; Ron Hobden, Gordon/Robb College; Rory Walton, Northern Suburbs/Coffs Harbour; Sam Stewart, Lennox Head; Shannon Beaven, Kariong; Toby Browne, Randwick/ Cowra; Tom Azar, Eastern Suburbs/ Warren; Va Talaileva, Hamilton.