The Gundagai Tigers will blood more junior talent when playing the Albury Thunder in round eight of the Group 9 competition on Sunday with Nick McDonald and Jared Elphick both set to make their first-grade debut.
Nick McDonald has enjoyed a breakout year in his first senior season of rugby league and union, with the youngster making a name for himself in the strong Tigers reserve grade outfit when playing in the front row, while also featuring at centre in the Tumut Bulls first-grade line-up in recent weeks.
McDonald said he found out he was playing first-grade when receiving a call from coach Luke Berkrey.
“I found out yesterday (Tuesday) when I was in the car and going to a job. I was still working and I didn’t know why he was ringing me, and then it clicked and I answered and he told me,” McDonald said.
“I didn’t really know what to think or say.”
McDonald has been one of Gundagai’s most consistent in reserve grade, but the front rower wasn’t expecting the call-up.
“It’s unreal but I didn’t really expect it,” McDonald said.
“I definitely have been going okay in reserve grade but I wasn’t sure of playing first grade, but they need me to step up.”
The McDonald household was full of excitement when hearing the news.
“I think the family is more excited than me,” McDonald laughed.
“It should be good and I’m looking forward to it.”
The 18-year-old said he would keep it simple when he eventually took the field against the Thunder on Sunday.
“I will try not to be that player that you don’t want to have on the field,” McDonald laughed.
“It’s just about running hard and tackling hard and doing my best.”
McDonald will be joined by Jared Elphick, who also started out playing for the Gundagai-Adelong Junior Rugby League Club in under 6s.
While his teammate progressed from the Tigers’ 2021 under 18s team, Elphick hasn’t been with the club in recent years, only playing through to under 14s before going away for school.
After attending St Gregory’s College Campbelltown, where he played first XV rugby union and was 18th man in the rugby league side before graduating in 2021, Elphick has returned home for work.
After re-joining the Tigers this season, the 18-year-old, who doesn’t turn 19 until later in the year, made his senior debut in reserve grade, starting in the back row against Wagga Brothers.
Having found his feet, Elphick quickly garnered the attention of first-grade coach Luke Berkrey, and will make his debut alongside his older brother Jake Elphick on Sunday.
“I Just moved home to work but I always wanted to play for the Tigers,” Elphick said.
“That was one of my goals that I set for myself this year; I wanted to play a few games with my brother.”
Elphick said he was surprised to get the call-up into first-grade so quickly.
“It surprised me a bit, because I had a few rough games at the start of the season, but I think I’ve found my feet in senior league and it means a lot to be picked,” Elphick said.
“I think that was the biggest thing I had to get used to. Just that contact and speed of the game.”
Elphick will come on in the middle or in the second row, and he said his role revolved around doing as much as he could to help the team.
“I will just try and get in there and do as much for the team and we will help each other out,” Elphick said.
“For me, it is just about getting that good experience and not letting my teammates down.”
Elphick and McDonald join youngster Braith Crane on the bench, and with the likes of Zac Fairall, Jake Elphick, Jack Elphick and Corey Wilson all in the starting team, a youthfully exuberant Tigers outfit, peppered with experienced and quality players, will be ready and raring for a big game against the Albury Thunder at Greenfield Park on Sunday.