Reece Chappell to make Maitland Blacks first grade debut after rapid conversion to union

CONVERSION: Maitland Blacks recruit Reece Chappel lines up in first grade after just nine games of rugby union. Picture: Michael Hartshorn
CONVERSION: Maitland Blacks recruit Reece Chappel lines up in first grade after just nine games of rugby union. Picture: Michael Hartshorn

Reece Chappell’s rapid conversion from rugby league to union has been rewarded with the fly half making his first grade debut with the Maitland Blacks against Lake Macquarie on Saturday.

Chappell comes into the line-up in only his 10th game of rugby union, which includes two trial games and seven games in second grade.

It will be a tough initiation with Lake Macquarie always a tough proposition on their home ground.

Chappell replaces another league convert to union, Rhys Clacherty who is on the sidelines with an injured knee suffered in the Blacks' round seven win against University.

“He is in his first year of rugby and has been playing very well in second grade and we are going to give him a crack in Rhys’ absence,” Blacks co-coach Ryan McCormack said of Chappell.

“It’s very exciting. He has only played nine games of rugby, two trial games and the seven comp games, he is a lot further along the development chart than I thought he would be.”

McCormack said Clacherty’s injury was a blow, but they were hopeful that he would only be on the sidelines for a few weeks.

“Rhys has been nothing short of fantastic, he is such a coachable kid. He is always listening, never whinging, he is always there for the team,” McCormack said.

“He hadn’t played a game of five-eighth before in any grade of rugby. We put him in there with two games before the season and he just keeps on improving every week.

“It’s disappointing he suffered a pretty nasty injury and will be out for a few weeks, because he was really starting to hit his straps.”

Scans confirmed Clacherty has a grade two medial tear in his right knee and is expected to be on the sidelines for another four to five weeks..

McCormack said having a ready-made replacement in Chappell was another sign of the club’s depth and it was a good opportunity to give another player first grade experience.

The Blacks were to finalise their team at training on Thursday night and would need to find replacements at the front and back of the scrum with their two first choice No.8s this season Travis Brooke and James Johnston not available.

Michael Howell may come in contention to take back his No.8 jersey, but the Blacks are in no hurry to rush their star forward back as he recovers from 

Tight head prop James Robinson is also likely to be rested another week after a severe concussion in the dying stages of the game against University.

Brooke and halfback Jono O’Toole are both on representative duty with NSW Country and will be missing for much of the next month.

Max Stafford will again play at No.9 where he has been impressive.