ILLAWARRA COAL LEAGUE
Last year's grand final combatants Collegians and Helensburgh dominate the Illawarra Division squad with the fierce rivals providing 10 players to the 17-man squad announced on Thursday.
Defending premiers Collegians will contribute six players to the squad with Sam Duggan, Fijian internationals Jimmy Storer and Alipate Noilea and skipper Jarrod Thompson retained in the side that took out the Country Championship title last year.
Dogs prop Jarrod Hickey's strong early season form was rewarded with coach Gavin Clinch keen to draw on the former Canterbury Bulldog forward's experience, while hard-running back-rower Blake Williamson also earned a call-up.
Helensburgh had four players selected - fullback Jason Raper, Wayne Bremner and Blake Phillips all earned recalls.
They'll be joined by newcomer Chris Lewis.
"We went for some guys that had been there last year then we've had, on form, some other guys come in," Clinch said.
"The core guys are there again but it's basically just all guys who are in form."
Hickey's selection, along with that of Thirroul captain-coach Nathan Fien and Wests back-rower Danny Williams, provides a wealth of NRL experience in a squad that lost some seasoned campaigners.
"We lost a couple of guys who played last year so we thought we needed some experience, especially in the pack," Clinch said.
"You've got the experience of Nathan Fien, Jarrod Hickey, Danny Williams [Wests] and Matt Handcock's [Dapto] come in. He's been playing good football."
Fien will debut for Illawarra Division after he was the only player selected from the table-topping Butchers while Illawarra Cutters pair Jacob Hind and Nathan Smith were added after they linked with Corrimal this year.
"Nathan Smith and Jacob Hind are two guys that, while their team hasn't been going as well, they've stood out and played good football," Clinch said.
Wests fullback Brad Scott was also selected despite missing much of the season with a rib cartilage injury in the Devils' round-one win over Dapto.
He made his return against Corrimal last week and will form a lethal back three with Bremner and Raper.
The squad's first training session is on June 4 ahead of the first away clash with Central Coast on June 14.
Clinch said his side needs to start well after they just escaped with a victory last year.
"We only just beat them right at the end last year; we were lucky to get away with that win," he said.