By Lawrence Machado
For Mick Withers, last year’s COVID-interrupted rugby league season had at least one silver lining. The Hills Bulls, who usually played in the Ron Massey Cup, were thrown into a tougher competition via the President’s Cup, and very nearly entered the grand final.
“That was a stronger challenge for the players and they stood up well,” Withers, 44, told the Hills to Hawkesbury Community News. “We lost by a mere two points in the semi-final at Maitland, which was tough to take. But by playing in the President’s Cup, the team gained valuable experience which will hold them in good stead in this year’s Ron Massey Cup.
“Because of COVID restrictions in the NRL, there were a lot of players from the Reserve Grades playing for us last season. There is always room for improvement, of course, and we are fortunate we have retained several players from last year because the club has recruited well. We also have a lot of youngsters coming through the junior ranks.
“Wentworthville Magpies are again the ones to beat in the Ron Massey Cup while St Mary’s, Mounties and Windsor Wolves always produce strong teams.”
The Bulls have retained highly-rated ex-NRL players, Tim Robinson, Levai Li, Daniel Harrison and Josh Lewis while recruiting David Gower in the off season.
Withers himself was a classy player, having led Bradford Bulls to three Super League titles in Britain and three World Club Challenges, where his team saw off Newcastle Knights, Penrith and Balmain Tigers in style. Withers was a regular scorer for the Bradford Bulls, planting 108 tries in 170 games.
Former NRL coach Matthew Elliott, who first suggested to the centre and full back that he should move to Britain, is among his favourite coaches.
The Hills Bulls are gearing up for the start of the 2021 Ron Massey Cup on the weekend of March 13 and 14 where they will play Windsor Wolves.
The Bulls began their trials with a win over the Wolves on February 13 but more importantly blew away the cobwebs after the holiday break.
The Bulls then went down 22-28 to the reigning champions Wentworthville Magpies in their second trial.
“We are happy to be playing footy again and I gave many players a hit out against the Magpies,” Withers said.
“We have one more trial game, against St Mary’s this Saturday before the season opens.
“The main thing is to go through the trials without injuries, regardless of the results.
“However, we did have one injury when our front rower Dylan McKeown, dislocated his shoulder during the trial but he should be fit for the opening game.”
Withers, who has three children, Zack, Tenieke and Keira, also helps in training the junior teams.
The Hills Bulls play their final trial game against hosts St Mary’s. The Sydney Shield game is scheduled at 4pm, followed by the Ron Massey Cup game at 6pm.