He may be regarded as the all-time prince of wings, but on Sunday David Campese was the king of kids at Maitland’s Marcellin Park.
The 101-Test Wallaby hosted a series of coaching clinics for local juniors throughout the morning, the sessions aimed at bringing the latest in rugby skills, coaching and tactics to players throughout the country.
While the former international was putting the next generation of Blacks through their paces with a heavy emphasis on catching and passing and basic skills, the club’s senior players have been adding the finishing touches on a solid preseason.
Grade players will have their first trial match of the year next Saturday against Mereweather in Newcastle in a hit-out that coaches Michael Hickling and Ryan McCormack will use to blood a number of younger players.
Hickling said Mereweather would provide a stern physical test for Blacks players getting their first taste of grade footy.
“It’ll be a good trial for us,” he said.
“You know what you’re going to get with Mereweather. It’ll be a good test. I’m pretty excited for it.”
Hickling said a core group of players – including 2017 standout forwards Michael Howell and Travis Brooks – had helped lead the charge in a tough pre-season.
Hickling said he was equally impressed with a large group of Colts graduates who had ripped into their first senior pre-season.
“We’ve got a couple of young blokes who have been really impressing at training, I’m pretty happy with them all,” he said.
Last year we got to a point where we competed against those top teams...before that we were probably a couple of levels off of themMaitland Blacks coach Michael Hickling
“They’ll get time in the trials and get to experience grade footy.”
While happy with the team shaping up for 2018, Hickling said the coaching staff had cast their eye around the competition during the off-season in a bid to boost depth in their front row.
“We have looked to bolster our front row. We don’t want to have to rely on the other grades as much,” he said.
Hickling said after breaking their five-season finals drought last year, the focus was now on improving on last year’s semi-final exit.
“Last year we got to a point where we competed against those top teams. We beat Wanderers and drew with Hamilton, who finished in the top two...before that we were probably a couple of levels off them,” he said.
With injuries and suspension crippling the Blacks charge into the finals last year, Hickling is confident a fully fit Maitland side can shake the competition heavyweights.
“When we’re at full-strength I think we are capable of competing against anyone,” he said.