PREMIERSHIP winning Forbes forwards Zac Merritt, Jake Grace and Ben Maguire and Mudgee brute Hamish Bryant headline a bumper Western squad named to take on Italy next month.
The Magpies trio and the Dragons’ newly crowned Dave Scott Medallist have been named in Darren Jackson’s 21-strong squad preparing to tackle the Azzurri at Bathurst’s Carrington Park on October 15.
After barnstorming performances leading their respective sides to Group 10 and Group 11 premiership glory, the quartet will slide straight into Jackson’s representative outfit as he prepares for a second and more successful tilt at the country championships in 2017.
Jackson was frothing at the thought of an “in-form and fit” Western side tackling Italy, a team likely to be made up of players with Italian heritage currently playing in the NSW and Queensland Cups vying for spots in the Azzurri’s squad for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
“It’s an opportunity for a number of players to be looked at, at this level,” Jackson said, he and his selectors naming 14 new faces in the Western fold.
“We’ve named a lot of new faces, and the benefit is most of those guys have been playing in finals footy, if not grand finals for their clubs," Jackson continued.
“Each competition was close this season, which is great for clubs and the Rams. Hopefully we can unearth some exciting new talent.”
In a show of strength for the Castlereagh Cup competition, four players - Brad James, Kurt Gudgeon, Jeremy Thurston and Jarrah McCready – have been named in Jackson’s squad.
Group 11 skipper Luke Thompson and Nyngan colossus Shane Lalogafau also made the cut, indicating Jackson’s desire to pick a monster pack to take on Italy.
Only one Dubbo player, Macquarie’s hooker Jeremy Smith, was included the side, although Jackson confirmed the October 15 clash coincides with Dubbo CYMS’ end of season trip.
The Rams have also named strong under-21 and under-16 sides for the day, with both set to take on the Federation Italian Rugby League Australia sides as curtain raisers to the main event.
Jackson’s side will train at Manildra’s Jack Huxley Oval on September 24 and October 8.
WESTERN: Jake Grace, Zac Merritt, Ben Maguire (all Forbes Magpies), Mitch Davis, Dom Maley, Simon Osborne (Orange CYMS), Shane Lalogafau, Jacob Neill (Nyngan Tigers), Jack Nobes, Warren Williams (Cowra Magpies), Brad James, Kurt Gudgeon (Gulgong Terriers), Luke Thompson (Narromine Jets), Jeremy Smith (Dubbo Macquarie), Riccie Arriola (Oberon Tigers), Keelan Bresac (Lithgow Workies), Hamish Bryant (Mudgee Dragons), Sam Dwyer (Parkes Spacemen), Jarrah McCready (Gilgandra Panthers), Brent Seager (Bathurst Panthers), Jeremy Thurston (Coonamble Bears).