BATHURST Bulldogs will enjoy a home game to usher in a new era of Blowes Clothing Cup rugby union this April.
Bulldogs will play host to the Cowra Eagles in the opening match of the new look six-team competition at Ashwood Park on April 7.
Central West Rugby Union’s decision to split the Blowes Clothing Cup into two tiers means every team now will play each other three times.
It also means the top-tier clubs will endure tougher rugby week in and week out, putting plenty of emphasis on a strong pre-season build up.
Bulldogs coach Dean Oxley said that area is looking promising.
“Pip McIntosh, our strength and conditioning coach, has had the boys in the gym since October and I’ve been running skills sessions for anyone in the club who wants to attend,” he said.
“I think the change to the competition is going to improve the standard of rugby in the zone. The impact on players will be harder each week and there’s not much time to rest.
“We need to use the [general] byes effectively to help the boys recover, and to get them playing at the right level to ensure we get to the semis.
“Our seconds are really looking strong and there’s guys in there who will be pushing for a first grade spot. It will be important for our top two grades to continue working together if we’re to get results again.
“There’s benchmarks that have been set for the new year and we’ve got to work hard to meet them.”
Oxley is looking forward to seeing what Eagles bring to the table in 2018.
“The Cowra game in the opening round will be interesting,” he said.
“The team wasn’t put into the top tier initially so I think they’ll come over here with a point to prove.
“I’ve spoken to Cowra’s coach Col Jeffs and we’re both excited for it.”
Aiding the Bulldogs’ preparation for the new look competition will be several trial matches.
“We’ve got a match against Wollongong University organised for March 10,” Oxley said.
“We’re looking to confirm another game on March 24 against Barker Old Boys.
“Bathurst were known as being the fittest team, and the club who would always come out firing and the start of the year, and that’s what we’re working towards.”
The Bathurst club are one of three lucky teams in the division who will enjoy an extra home game this Blowes Clothing Cup season (eight home, seven away).
Following their match against Cowra the Bulldogs will have back-to-back matches against last year’s grand finalists.
Bulldogs will travel to face the Emus before playing host to defending premiers Forbes Platypi.