The Tumut Blues will be without premiership winning prop, Jed Pearce, and newly acquired strike centre, Tolo Aroha-Tuinauvai, when they play host to the Young Cherrypickers at Twickenham on Sunday.
The pair, who travel across from Canberra, are both unavailable for selection due to work commitments.
Fortunately for the Blues, co-coach Dean Bristow has a strong playing group to call upon as they prepare for the highly anticipated match up with a new-look Pickers.
“We are pretty blessed this year to have a few options. Missing Jeddy (Pearce) last year would’ve hurt us a lot more but having Mick (Fenn) on board this season is pretty handy,” Bristow said.
“Brayden looks like he will be right to play and will slot back in there at centre, so we have some capable replacements.”
With some slight changes to the Blues line-up, Bristow will also implement a few changes in attack after the Blues squandered attacking chances against both the Tigers and Roos in the opening two rounds.
“I think that we need to alter our attack a little bit. We had a fair few opportunities there last week,” Bristow said.
“It is nothing too drastic but just a few things we need to change up so we can score a few more points when we are attacking.”
Another slight area of concern was the Blues initial contact in defence and dominance at the ruck, an area of the game Tumut typically dominates.
“We had a few contact issues where we were lacking on the weekend and our defence needs to tighten up around the middle, so we can control the ruck,” Bristow said.
Despite facing a new-look Young Cherrypickers, Bristow wasn’t focusing on the opposition ahead of Sunday’s match and said at this early stage of the season, the Blues were concentrating on getting their structures right.
“We’re not really focusing on anyone other than ourselves. We are a long way off being our best and we need to work on doing those little things better,” Bristow said.
“We don’t know what they will throw at us, but we will prepare for a tough game of footy.”
According to Young coach Nick Hall, the visitors are also working on their own game after a tough loss at the hands of Gundagai.
“We are just wanting to improve again. We still have some of those issues with timing and things are still a little clunky, but we will get better,” Hall said.
“We have had two full ball work sessions and two games and we are looking forward to more time together.”
Hall will name a largely unchanged side to the one that beat Junee in round one and lost to Gundagai in round two.
“Everyone played pretty well last week and they improved on what they did against Junee, but they came up against a sharper side in Gundagai,” Hall said.
The only forced change will come via injury, with the immediate future of Ben Picker looking very hazy after he left the field with a potentially serious knee injury.
Still, the Cherrypickers have a worthy replacement, with James Woolford stepping into the vacant hooker role and Josh Ayers stepping up from reserve grade to sit on the bench.
“Ben has hurt himself. We are waiting on feedback but he is not playing this weekend and we hope it’s nothing too serious,” Hall said.
“We have a very handy replacement in James. I didn’t bat an eyelid there. It adjusted our rotation slightly but other than that, we will be fine.”
Young, who were predicted by many Group 9 pundits to be a top two side in 2020, have yet to light the world on fire and Hall said things will turn around, but also highlighted it was tough playing Tumut and Gundagai so early in the draw.
“It’s unfortunate that we are taking on Gundagai and Tumut early on but it is what it is, and we are looking to improve each week,” Hall said.
Blues line up: 1. Dean Bistow (CC), 2. Lewis Arragon, 3. Brayden Draber, 4. Connor Massen, 5. Matt Richards, 6. Jacob Toppin, 7. Jordan Anderson, 8. Zac Masters, 9. Lachlan Bristow (CC), 10. Michael Fenn, 11. Adam Pearce, 12. Jacob Sturt, 13. Tommy Jeffery, 14. Matt Byatt,15. TBA, 16. TBA, 17. Jacob McGrath.
Cherrypickers line up: 1. Tom Bush, 2. John Grant, 3. Nic Hall, 4. Tom Jenkins, 5. Kye Tiederman, 6. Mick Picker, 7. Jacob Lucas, 8. Inoke Vunipola, 9. James Woolford, 10. Jayke Hogan, 11. Joe Picker, 12. Mia Tema, 13. Blake Hewitt, 13. Jesse Corcoran, 15. Kyle Richens, 16. Josh Ayers, 20. Mick Dodson.