Tuesday, March 5, 2024

The Mendi Blackhawks will field five club debutants for their opening game of the 2024 Hostplus Cup season. Prop Richard Holani and backrower Nicholas Halalilo have been named having recently arrived in Townsville after completing pre-season with the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Former NRL journeyman Matt Wright will come off the bench while Dudley Dotoi and Ratu Rotavisoro should form an exciting combination out wide. The latter’s looking forward to facing his former side first up, after switching shades of green at the end of last year.

“I’m actually pumped, so stoked! I contacted my parents straight away and all my close relatives and I’ve got heaps of family down there and close mates that are going to turn up and watch the game. Because I was living in Ipswich for 3 years and it’s pretty much my second home to be honest.”

The flying Fijian somewhat surprised himself securing a position on the wing for round one.

“When I first joined I wasn’t sure if I was going to get into the line up straight away but I just put in the work in pre-season. It was tough but all the credit goes to our strength and conditioning coach Lee, he’s got me fitter than ever. And the two trials, I didn’t see them as that, I looked at them as proper games because I wanted that spot.”

The man inside Ratu has plenty of x-factor according to coach Terry Campese.

“I’m all about progression through the grades and Dudley was one of the under 21 grand final heroes last year. He’s going to be an exceptional talent and every time he gets that ball you stand up to watch a player like him. I can’t wait to see what he produces because his trial form was awesome, he scored a handful of tries, so it’s a very special moment for him.”

Campese’s keen to see Captain Kyle Laybutt embrace another positional swap. The PNG playmaker will wear number 13.

“In the pre-season I sat down and asked him what his top five positions were and the funny thing is he didn’t say lock… But I love a ball playing back row and Kyle’s got tremendous hands and he’s such a clubman. He’ll do anything for this club so of course he was happy to play there. I really think he can take this competition by the scruff of the neck in that role.”

Saturday’s showdown with the Jets is a return to tradition of the sides starting their respective campaigns against one another. The defence force clash at North Ipswich Reserve kicks off at 5pm.