Perth Spirit coach Dwayne Nestor has the knowledge and experience to back up his claim that Ben McCalman is a “genuine, tough country footy player”.
The Warren junior is currently playing at Perth Spirit under Nestor in the National Rugby Championship (NRC) and working his way back to full fitness after an injury-plagued 2016 season.
And Nestor, who grew up outside Narromine and spent time playing at the Dubbo Kangaroos, knows his star man will be key this Saturday when the Spirit meet the NRC leading NSW Country Eagles.
“I feel for ‘Dog’ (McCalman) because his main goal is making the Wallabies squad and now he’s fit and playing again,” he said.
“It’s a bittersweet thing to have him playing for us. Unfortunately he didn’t make the Wallabies touring squad but we love having him on the field because he’s a genuine, tough country footy player.”
Nestor added he had no doubt the barnstorming No. 8 has what it takes to get back in the green and gold.
“He’s a bona fide Wallaby and when he’s fit and playing his best rugby he’s one to be selected. But he’s working his way back from injury and is showing progress,” he said.
“When he’s fit and playing well he’ll be right in contention.”
Scoring a win on Saturday would not only boost McCalman’s chances of regaining his place in the national squad, it would also be a massive result for the Spirit and a pleasing one for Nestor given his connections with regional NSW.
The coach and former Roo said he is always quick to tell people he’s a “country boy” and knows how popular the game is in the central west.
Unfortunately for Nestor, the Eagles, and the region's rugby fans, the match has been transferred from Orange to Sydney due to the waterlogged state of the colour city’s sporting fields.
Nestor was involved with the Spirit when it played at Dubbo’s Caltex Park in the inaugural NRC tournament in 2014 and enjoyed that experience, leaving him disappointed not to be making a trip back to the bush.
“I really enjoy it,” he said of playing in regional areas.
“I think some of the best trips we’ve had are to the country areas. I enjoyed going out to Dubbo a few years ago and last season we played Queensland Country in Rockhampton and that was great but maybe that’s just the country coming out in me.
“It would have been good, especially for the central west.”
The fixture is likely to be played at either Sydney University or Warringah’s Rat Park.