A homecoming of sorts awaits a host of Country Eagles players as they prepare to tackle the Canberra Vikings in Armidale this Saturday.
Niangala’s Jock Armstrong, Glen Innes’ Alex Newsome and Tamworth’s Paddy Ryan are all contracted to the Eagles in the National Rugby Championship and are preparing for the side’s first home game for the season at Bellevue Oval.
It’s Armstrong’s second season with the Eagles after being part of the squad in 2015 and the former The Armidale School student can’t wait for the region to witness some of the country’s best players face off.
“I don't really get home much at all these days so getting up there would be awesome and playing footy as well would be cool,” he said.
“I have a heap of family around there so hopefully they will all get along and then I have a lot of mates that have hung around that area and still live around there.
“A lot of the country towns we go to get around it and it is quite a big turn out when we go out there.”
Armstrong is one of a handful of players at the Country Eagles who have landed a spot in the squad without having a Super Rugby contract.
He said it is “surreal” to be surrounded by the players he looks up to.
“I remember when I was playing in under 13s, Paddy Ryan came out to Tamworth and had a chat and now he is in this team as well,” he said.
“I remember sitting down there and he's a massive bloke and he was talking about how he moved down to Sydney and now he is playing for the Waratahs.
“I was a bit nervous coming in because I think there might only be six or seven boys who aren't contracted in the 30-man squad but it is all just like another day.
“It is definitely a bit of a contrast between the way club teams train and the contracted guys do. A lot of off-field stuff too but little tips you gain from them, even just hanging around them, is good.”
He moved to Sydney to play for Randwick in 2012. Although it was a step-up from country rugby to play grade in Sydney, Armstrong said he was lucky enough to travel to the state’s capital numerous times throughout his school sport career with TAS.
“I had a lot of good coaches going through there,” he said.
“Going to TAS and travelling down here a bit with the GPS schools, we got a little bit of a taste for it but I think there's a lot of contrast in the amount of funding that goes to the country rugby programs as opposed to the city ones. Having teams like the Eagles go out there is probably trying to bridge that gap a little bit.”
He hopes a big crowd will come along to cheer on the Eagles. Juniors and women’s start at 9am with the main game commencing at 1pm.