When prized recruit Sam Wooden arrived at Kurri Kurri Bulldogs pre-season training looking ready to run out for round one, Bulldogs coach Ron Griffiths wasn’t surprised.
Ex-NSW Country captain Wooden is renowned for his fitness, preparation and professionalism and after two years playing out west at Mudgee is ready for the renewed challenge of Newcastle Rugby League.
Wooden, 31, will be joined by multiple-premiership winning halfback Jade Porter, 36, in a new halves combination for the Bulldogs and is relishing the opportunity of playing with Porter again after they formed a partnership at representative level with the Newcastle Rebels.
“I played a bit of rep footy with Jade and against him over 10 years. To play with him will be great, I’m sure we’ll learn a lot from each other,” Wooden said.
“We’ve got a lot of young blokes who are involved here and got a lot of ability. Me and Ports will have a role working with them, giving them a bit of direction and hopefully have a big season in all grades.
“Things didn’t go their way last year but they still put in every week, it’s a credit to them. We know they’ve got the courage there so hopefully with a few wins and a few more extra people on board we can direct it forward for a successful year.
“We’re trying to create something here, with a good culture and Ronnie (Griffiths) has given us a role to start that and keep it going throughout the year..
“I’m here to play a part for the club and whatever that means position wise I’m happy to play there.”
Wooden and Porter loom large in the Bulldogs’ fortunes in 2018 along with a core group of young leaders who emerged in the absence of former captain Terence Seu Seu who has signed with Central Newcastle for 2018.
Mitch Cullen, Ben Wyborn, Michael Steele, Tyme Dow-Nikau, Brock Gilmour, Brock Hollis, Kade Hardy, Brady Hammond and gun youngsters Jordy Mitchell and Reid Alchin are all on the track and ready to take the next step.
Cullen, in particular is looking fit taking part in his first pre-season in a number of seasons. Cullen, Wooden and Maitland Blacks rugby convert Jono Maloney are tied at the top of the best times for repeat sprints.
The other figure who is making a big impact at the Bulldogs is new fitness and conditioning coach Josh Day.
“I’ve been training hard and looking after myself with a good diet with Josh Day helping out,” Wooden said.
“It’s the first time I’ve really had that sort of involvement with fitness and diet together and it’s really helping us all out.”
The Bulldogs are training twice a week and kick off their game preparation with the inaugural Kurri Kurri 9s, involving 16-plus teams, on February 24