Central West coach Dean Oxley will put his faith in a quartet of Harden's guns in this year's NSW Country Rugby Union Championship at Tamworth, naming Red Devils across what he's calling the Blue Bulls "spine".
With two players still be to be added Oxley and his coaching staff revealed a 23-strong squad for this year's Caldwell Cup tilt on Sunday night, with Aaron Seaman, Shahid Khalfan, Jack O'Connor and Ben Lenehan's names jumping from the page at No.8, halfback, five-eighth and fullback respectively.
Seaman, Khalfan and Lenehan have been in and among Central West's group from the beginning of their unprecedented preparation and were all excellent in the Blue Bulls' tour of New Zealand, while O'Connor wasn't available for that trip but proved his capability at country week last year.
They have that cohesion, those combinations and the quality of player is certainly there with those four guys.Central West coach Dean Oxley, on the Blue Bulls' all-Harden spine
He does have massive boots to fill considering he's taking the place of reigning Caldwell Cup player-of-the-tournament and Cockatoos incumbent Mahe Fangupo, who's ruled himself out due to a knee injury.
"You could call it the spine, yes, and they're all coming from Harden," Oxley said.
"They have that cohesion, those combinations and the quality of player is certainly there with those four guys.
"Mahe is a big loss, obviously, but we're not going to focus on that because Jack O'Connor is a really classy rugby player. He came in seamlessly on Sunday and really led the training session, I've got full confidence in him.
"It's quite gratifying to see these guys do well too because that's what the tour was about, giving these players more exposure and more chances, they've taken that opportunity."
Including the Harden trio 16 of the 23 named were on that tour of New Zealand tour and Oxley's hopeful, certain rather, the relationships they've built will "really benefit" the Blue Bulls' bid to avenge last year's decider loss to Illawarra.
Those 16 include last year's skipper Peter Fitzsimmons, who'll play hooker, and this year's captain in Dubbo Kangaroos' Mark Baldwin, named at flanker. Baldwin hasn't played since rupturing his ACL at last year's tournament, but is expected to return for Roos this weekend against Orange Emus.
Roos' skipper Shaun McHugh has also forced his way into the side after a long hiatus as expected, while Bathurst Bulldogs' Justin Mobbs completes his transformation from second grade fullback to representative lock as well.
Considering the preparation they've had and the group he's put together Oxley was pretty succinct in what he hopes to achieve at country week, basically he said any result other than a win will be a failure.
"I set very high standards for all of us so even though I can handle being beaten by a better side on the day I don't think I'd be pleased with any other result, a Caldwell Cup is what we're going for," Oxley said.
"We've got the quality and the calibre of players in this group and they've really engaged well with each other, they're all on board and they want it as much as any of the coaching staff.
"If we don't get there it won't be through lack of application or ability."
He also went on to say he wouldn't consider a victory at the 2019 tournament to be one with an asterisk, as some have suggested it would be considering Newcastle-Hunter's boycott of the senior men's top tier.
"No, I don't think so," Oxley said.
"We beat Newcastle-Hunter last year in a classic, fair game of country rugby, when we were both fresh and firing and I actually think them not being there makes it tougher for us.
"We worked hard to get on the other side of the draw this year, them and Illawarra bashing each other in the first game would've assisted our campaign.
"We'll have to work harder now and we're still waiting to see what our task will be, NSW Country will decide that soon, but whoever it is we can't look past them, we can't lose sight of that first goal."
Oxley did confirm Orange City skipper Josh Tremain would have been named if not for Saturday's incident at Cowra ruling him out for the remainder of the season, wishing the former Cockatoos hooker well on behalf of himself and the entire Blue Bulls group as well.
The 2019 NSW Country Rugby Union Championships will be held at Tamworth on the June long weekend, with the colts and women's tournaments played alongside the senior men's.
- CENTRAL WEST BLUE BULLS: 1 Charlie French (Forbes Platypi), 2 Peter Fitzsimmons (Bathurst Bulldogs), 3 John Ellis (Narromine Gorillas), 4 Chris Miller (Cowra Eagles),5 Justin Mobbs (Bathurst Bulldogs), 6 Dan Ryan (Parkes Boars), 7 Mark Baldwin (Dubbo Kangaroos - captain), 8 Aaron Seaman (Harden Red Devils), 9 Shahid Khalfan (Harden Red Devils), 10 Jack O'Connor (Harden Red Devils), 11 Joe Nash (Bathurst Bulldogs),12 Lachie Harris (Orange Emus), 13 Zac White (Molong Magpies), 14 Tim Beach (Dubbo Kangaroos), 15 Ben Lenehan (Harden Red Devils); Bench: 16 George Quigley (Warren Pumas) 17 Alex Weal (Bathurst Bulldogs), 18 Tom Dunstan (Mudgee Wombats), 19 Shaun McHugh (Dubbo Kangaroos), 20 Josh Peffer (Molong Magpies), 21 Will Oldham (Bathurst Bulldogs), 22 Filisione Pauta (Guerie Goats), 23 Brenton Gibson (Bathurst Bulldogs), 24 TBC, 25 TBC
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