Right now, the Blowes Clothing Cup looks like Orange Emus’ to lose.
Even so, all the other clubs have lit up the opening eight rounds of the competition as well, a few individuals in particular.
Here they are, the guys that have had the biggest impact on season 2017 so far.
There’s five Orange Emus – considering the greens’ form, there probably could’ve been more – while Forbes has three named and Bathurst Bulldogs, Dubbo Kangaroos, Orange City and Parkes all picked up two representatives.
Well, there might be a few surprises, one GrainCorp Cup star even forced his way into the 2017 list, despite playing in a different competition.
1 | LACHIE HARRIS (Orange Emus)
He’s been on Emus’ wing for the last season or two, turns out he just needed a chance to move in. Harris is the best No.12 in the competition, you can stop that fight.
With Nigel Staniforth shifting from outside to fullback Emus needed Harris to stand up as a leader in the midfield while the greens’ coaches decided on a full-time No.13.
He’s done that and then some.
Harris’ punch through the middle of the third of the paddock has proved unparalleled and he, time and again, gets his side over the advantage line and on the front foot.
The amount of tries Emus have scored directly on the back of a Harris break, well, there’s probably too many to count.
2 | ANDREW SELWOOD (Orange Emus)
In any given week so far in 2017, you could ask any punter at Endeavour Oval who has played well for Emus and one of the first names out of their mouth is invariably Andrew Selwood.
He waited in the wings for a long time, but having finally earned his chance in Emus’ back row full-time, Selwood is flourishing.
Versatile, skilful and above all tough, he plays whatever role head coach Paul Ringland needs him too and has a wonderful knack for breaking games open, just when the greens need a spark.
He’s been the best back-rower in the competition all season.
3 | MAHE FANGUPO (Forbes Platypi)
No.1 in this list last year, this bloke doesn’t really need an explanation.
He’s Forbes’ best player and nigh on the best in the competition too.
He made the initial NSW Country squad and, quite simply, without Fangupo there’s little chance Forbes would be coming second leading into the long weekend.
4 | ISRAEL SYMINGTON (Parkes Boars)
Parkes going from scarily ordinary to overwhelmingly competitive in 12 months?
There’s no coincidence that’s happened after Symington took the Boars’ captain-coach role.
A Central West Blue Bull as well, the fuzzy-haired back-rower is clearly as good a leader as any other in the competition and just happens to be one of the best loose forwards in the region too.
He’s coaxed a number of Parkes’ former champions back to the top grade and has brought in a couple of handy recruits as well, which hasn’t just benefited the Boars in first grade, it’s had an overwhelmingly positive influence on the entire club.
This choice isn’t just about his on-field influence, Symington’s been a vital cog in the Boars’ resurgence after a turbulent 2016 season.
Yes Parkes has suffered a couple of gigantic defeats on his watch, and while they kept him from landing the No.1 spot, they’re not enough for him to drop any further down the list than No.4.
He’s a superb role model for the club’s youngsters too.
5 | SCOTT JOHNSTON (Bathurst Bulldogs)
Johnston was solid last year without being outstanding.
That’s to be expected though, he was still gaining confidence and fitness after returning from a couple of years off.
This season he’s been brimming with confidence and as his performance has gone to another level, so has Bathurst’s.
Bulldogs have had plenty of guys fill the No.10 jersey in recent years and while they’ve been solid, none have had the influence Johnston has in 2017.
His experience is invaluable, he’s probably the most reliable five-eighth in the competition and more than anything, he lifts those around him.
When he talks the Bulldogs listen, and it’s clear they’ve listened so far in 2017.
6 | VILIAME TURUVA (Dubbo Kangaroos)
Every time you hear or read about Roos winning, it’s followed pretty closely by how good Turuva’s played.
Not bad for a winger.
Although, we think he probably should be playing outside centre.
Whenever he touches the ball something seems to happen, and he’s just as strong without it.
Knows how to find the line too, he scored seven against Mudgee for goodness sake.
7 | JAKE DAVIS (Orange City Lions)
Davis is always in the mix for a list like this one, but he became a sure thing after he got hurt against Orange Emus.
Once he left the paddock, and since the Lions have been playing without him, it’s become just how obvious Davis’ influence on Orange City is with and without the ball.
With Davis, Orange City’s backline always remains a threat and he’s possibly – pound for pound – the strongest bloke in the competition in contact, attacking or defensively.
The Lions should be doing everything they can to fast-track his recovery.
8 | JAVARN NOFOAGATOTOA (Dubbo Rhinos)
“I wouldn’t want to get hit by him”.
That’s the word of Rhinos coach Dave Stuart, it was the first thing out of his mouth when asked about Nofoagatotoa and the impact he’s had since joining the Dubbo club this season.
Not since Roos behemoth Max Ma’anelson has the Blowes Clothing Cup seen someone who naturally plays prop slot in the centres, which Nofoagatotoa’s done with ease.
One of the hardest hitters in the competition, he’s had a huge impact on Rhinos in attack too and has been constant during the side’s somewhat injury plagued season.
A big reason for Rhinos’ resurgence this year.
9 | TOM GREEN (Orange Emus)
The only winger we’ve ever seen who actively looks for contact.
He always seems to win that contact too, the kid can bust a tackle.
That, combined with the fact he never kicks, gives Emus a huge roll-on in the counterattack and makes the greens an attacking threat from everywhere on the paddock.
One of the best finishers in the competition too.
10 | DAN RYAN (Parkes Boars)
Remember those two blowout losses Parkes suffered, 70-7 at the hands of Bulldogs and 101-0 at the hands of Emus?
Well, Ryan didn’t play either.
A NSW Country Cockatoo, Ryan’s influence on Parkes has been undeniable for many years, but this year he’s been the glue that brings the Boars together.
A big ball-runner, hard-hitting defender and the side’s lineout general.
11 | ROB THORBURN (Orange Emus)
The best ball-runner in the competition.
Thorburn’s been around the Emus group for several years, but has come into his own in 2017 having nailed down the No.8 jersey – he often filled whatever hole was necessary in previous seasons.
Yes, a lot of that comes from the guys he’s running outside.
But without his strength, tenacity and determination with ball in hand, the space he’s given by his inside men wouldn’t count for as much as it has this year.
Knows how to score a try, and looks obscenely like Greg Bird, which wins him points because we love a good look-a-like.
12 | CHARLIE FRENCH (Forbes Platypi)
One of two NSW Country Cockatoos in this list, French has provided Forbes exactly what the side was missing last season.
A big, strong, technically correct prop to build a scrum around.
Despite French’s obvious influence at the set-piece, his impact around the paddock and off it too can’t be underestimated.
He’s experienced, he’s vocal and he’s a leader.
13 | JARROD HALL (Forbes Platypi)
A big ball-runner, damaging defender, a superb scrummager, an outrageously good lineout thrower, a bristly character who doesn’t take a backwards step and someone who leads by example.
That’s Hall in one sentence.
He was included in this list last year for those reasons and his performance hasn’t dropped off in 2017, in fact, he’s become even more influential to the Platypi’s hopes for one reason.
He kicks goals too.
More than once this season Forbes has scraped through on the back of Hall’s boot and although he’s relinquished those duties now, without his pinpoint kicking the side probably wouldn’t be sitting second through eight rounds.
14 | PETER FITZSIMMONS (Bathurst Bulldogs)
He was given the Central West captaincy, such was his influence around that group.
He translates all that – the experience, the talk, the leadership – back to Bulldogs, ‘nuff said.
15 | NICK HUGHES-CLAPP (Orange Emus)
Reportedly all but guaranteed NSW Country selection until he made himself unavailable, Hughes-Clapp is a no-brainer, purely because of his influence on Emus’ set-piece so far in 2017.
While he’s been strong with the ball and has developed a reputation as a genuine defensive hitman, the gangly, offbeat second-rower is superb at scrum time and leads Emus’ lineout, pinching opposition ball at will.
Considering the greens build so much of their dominance and phase play off a clinical set-piece, they’d have been far, far, far worse off without the Tom Selleck look-a-like.
16 | BRAD PUGH (Dubbo Kangaroos)
Versatility and leadership.
Pugh hasn’t necessarily been Roos’ best player, but in terms of influence?
Well, he’s right up there.
With regular skipper Shaun McHugh out hurt earlier this season Dubbo was crying out for a leader. Enter Pugh.
An incredible back-rower, he’s had to shift between there and the centres to fill holes for the side and has done so with aplomb.
17 | BILL CUMMINS (Cowra Eagles)
Look, if this list was being written in three months time there’s almost no doubt John Grant would be here somewhere too.
He’s only just hitting his straps though, scoring a hat-trick on the weekend, whereas Cummins has been at his best since the word go.
He’s leading Cowra’s best and fairest and while the Eagles have only won two games, without the calming influence of Cummins we’d wager they wouldn’t have gone anywhere near a victory.
He’s shifted from No.10 to inside centre recently but that’s done nothing to stifle him, he’s been one of few genuine attacking threats in the Cowra side this season.
18 | CHRIS SENIOR (Orange City Lions)
Right now, Senior is the heart and soul of the Orange City Lions.
The hostile hooker is basically the only Lion that’s played almost every game, in a season where the club’s been plagued by injuries the influence of that consistency in the No.2 jersey can’t be underestimated.
With less experience among the group he’s been forced to take a leadership role but he’s done it superbly.
He leads from the front, goes all day and while he isn’t the best hooker in the competition technically, his aggression and physicality make up for that.
Also, if there’s anyone more passionate about donning the orange and green, we’ll eat our hats.
19 | LOCHIE ROBINSON (CSU Bathurst)
CSU’s biggest threat, week-in-week-out.
Like Cam Backhouse before him, Robinson provides the students with a spark from the back and consistently been the side’s best player.
At times he’s been the best on the field despite coming from the beaten side, impressing in every game he’s played.
CSU has battled to score points in 2017, but without Robinson they’d have struggled a whole lot more.
20 | TANIELA MATAKAIONGO (Geurie Goats)
Yes, we know, it says Blowes Clothing Cup.
But how do you leave out the bloke who was named at No.8 for Central West from the GrainCorp Cup, and was then one of the Blue Bulls’ best at the NSW Country Rugby Championship too?
You don’t, simple as that.
Matakaiongo – better known as Nela Nela – has been gigantic, in every sense of the word, for the Goats this year.
He was a big part of Geurie’s surge to third in last year’s GrainCorp Cup, and maintaining that success was always going to be the club’s biggest challenge.
The Goats have done that, losing just two games so far, largely thanks to Nela Nela’s performance in a number of different positions.
Lloyd Rogers, Ben Powlay (Parkes Boars), Billy Sing, Shaun McHugh, Hamish Gordon (Dubbo Kangaroos), Jack Keppell (CSU Bathurst), Tom Goolagong, Carter Hirini, Michael Graham (Orange Emus), Jackson and Sam Coote (Orange City Lions), Chris Plunkett, Adam Geal (Bathurst Bulldogs), John Grant, Tom Dewhurst (Cowra Eagles), Adam Rayner (Mudgee Wombats)