What began as a desire to represent Central North has snowballed into one of returning Pirates prop Andrew Collins’ biggest footballing challenges.
Collins is set to captain-coach the combined Central North/New England side at next month’s Country Championships in Warren.
After both zones indicated they wouldn’t be sending sides to NSW Country Rugby’s showpiece event, the organisation approached them about pooling their resources and forming a Barbarians style side.
And so the Bushrangers were born.
One of the contributing factors to the Kookaburras and Lions withdrawing was a lack of player interest. But for Collins that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Returning to the region after almost a decade plying his trade in Sydney, he was keen to don the red and white.
“I wanted to play Central North. I’ve never played any senior rep for this area ever,” Collins said.
Having not heard anything about the rep side and knowing the championships weren’t far away, he enquired with NSW Rugby Development Manager for Central North and New England Garry Walsh about what was happening.
Walsh informed him that Central North weren’t sending a side.
Later when the Bushrangers concept was touted, Walsh rang him back and asked him whether he would be interested in coaching the side.
Helping out with Pirates forwards this season, and having had a bit of coaching experience in the past, Collins said he would be.
”Rugby gave me a fair bit so it’s good to give back,” he said.
The Bushrangers will contest the Richardson Shield and while there is no question the talent is there to form a competitive side at this stage Collins said he “would be happy to get 22”.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he conceded.
He is hoping to rope a few of his Pirates team-mates into playing, and has heard via the grapevine that there are a few Narrabri players that are keen.
Walcha backs Simon Newton and Pat Keen are not surprisingly also both on his radar, with both making the Cockatoos squad last year.
“Hopefully we can get a few of the New England boys too,” he said.
He’ll get a clearer picture of what the side might look like after the trial day at Barraba on March 25.
Country Cockatoos coach Mat Thomas is heading out to that to help out, along with Country Rugby Executive Officer Stephen O’Brien.
“We’ll have one more training session then it’s into Country Champs,” Collins said.
Collins brings to the role the experience of 50 Shute Shield appearances, and 200 caps for Manly, incidentally reaching both milestones in the same game last season.
Sadly it turned out to be his last for the Marlins, popping his rib cartilage and missing virtually the remainder of the season.
After his passion for the club he played his junior footy with was reignited when he played for the Country Eagles in 2015, Collins suited up for Pirates in 2016, traveling back from Sydney every weekend.
Returning permanently this time, he felt his “time was up in Sydney”.
“I just wanted to come home. I’d done ten years there,” he said.
April is shaping up as a busy month for Collins.
Along with the Central North competition kicking off and his Bushrangers duties, he will also head to Hong Kong to play for the Lloydies (Lloyd McDermott Foundation) Old Boys side at the Kowloon RugbyFest.
Collins has been involved with the side, which Wallabies legend Glen Ella is coaching, for about five years.