STINGRAYS coach Dean Gray has a vision of turning the Shellharbour derby into a Group Seven version of the NRL’s Cowboys-Broncos rivalry.
A day when meeting big brother up the road, the Sharks, is a marquee fixture on the calendar on the South Coast. But for now, Gray’s mission is simple.
After a decorated 300-game career with Albion Park-Oak Flats, Gray is using all his experience to turn a reserve grade club into a competitive Group Seven force.
Completing sets. Line speed. Making tackles stick. Trying to answer all the questions they’ll be asked by the competition heavyweights, like Gerringong and big brother up the road.
“The main reason the club came into first grade is because we kept losing all our kids,” he said.
“It’s the biggest junior base in Group 7, but of course you’re going to go elsewhere if you can’t play in first grade.
“We’ve got to build up our rivalries, we want it to be a big occasion when we play Warilla and Albion Park and the premiers Gerringong.
“With Shellharbour, we want to make it a Cowboys and Broncos thing, the little brother up the road who they don’t want hanging around.”
The Queensland NRL clubs have produced several epic contests in recent times, including the 2015 grand final and another golden point thriller on Friday, where Johnathan Thurston kicked the winning field goal.
Gray could never envisage a day where he would run out against the Eagles, where he is considered a club legend.
But after being sold on the Stingrays vision for the future, Gray was also convinced to pull on the boots once more.
“I’m like a big kid again,” he said. “I was excited about their plan, but once I signed to coach, I thought I had to play as well. I want to be able to lead by example at training, I didn’t feel like I could tell the young blokes to go and do laps if I wasn’t out there with them.”
In a move guaranteed to draw a big crowd to their first game, in round two after starting the season with a bye, the Stingrays will meet Albion Park on April 8.
“I can’t wait to play against my mates,” he said. “It’ll be strange playing against Albion Park, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m pretty sure they’ll be out there trying to bash me up a bit.”
Fellow former Eagles player Sean Jenkins has joined the Stingrays, who play a trial against Milton-Ulladulla at Flinders Oval on Saturday, before their season launch.
- GROUP SEVEN
STINGRAYS SHELLHARBOUR v MILTON-ULLADULLA