Gundagai Tigers stalwart James Luff will lead the Riverina Bulls into the 2022 Country Championships, with the talented hooker taking over the coaching role from his teammate, Luke Berkrey.
Luff, who hasn’t previously coached at the senior level, was looking forward to the challenge, and he explained why he was confident he could get the job done.
“I’ve been involved with Riverina for a while now and have played for Riverina since 2015,” Luff said.
“I was approached by James Smart and a few blokes from the NRL regarding coaching the side, and I was asked to have a think about it.
“I know I haven’t got much of a coaching history, but you don’t need a coaching resume with these teams. It’s more about managing the players and picking the right players that want to be successful for Riverina.”
Luff was a member of the Riverina side that went down to Illawarra South Coast in this year’s Country Championships semi-final, and he believed the result was an ‘underachievement’.
“We had a really good side last season, and a few crucial decisions at a few crucial times let us down,” Luff said.
“I think we had the team to have a crack at the Country Championships and we made the finals, but I think we underachieved by not making the grand final and having that chance to play against Monaro in the final.”
A new-look Riverina side will turn out in 2022, and Luff believed a finals appearance would be a pass mark.
“This year, the goal is to try and make finals, and with that, there are a lot of guys who want to make the (NSW) Country side,” Luff said.
“They will have a better chance of being picked up the further we play into the competition.”
Luff was hoping to announce a squad of 22 players in the coming days, with training to commence in February ahead of his side’s first match in March.
“I’m really happy with the guys we have. I think I have the best players in the competitions, and it will be interesting to see how we go come Country Champs,” Luff said.
“We are not too far off naming the side. I will probably send it through to the NSWRL in the next couple of days.
“I’ve only got a couple more phone calls to make and I’m looking to pick 22 blokes.
“We’ve got a few training sessions in February, then I will pick a side for our match against Western Sydney in the first week of March.”
The Riverina squad will boast a larger contingent of Group 20 players compared to previous years, and Luff admitted that this was by design.
“Last year, we didn’t get many blokes from Group 20, and it’s been a Group 9 dominated side the last few years,” Luff said.
“I want a good mix of players from Group 9 and Group 20. There are some really good players out there, and I think we can put together a really good team.”
Once the Riverina side is named, training will officially kick off in Wagga, with sessions on February 12 and February 19 before the Bulls play their first game against Macarthur Wests Tigers on February 27 in Camden.
Riverina will then be at home on March 5, playing in Wagga with finals to proceed in the following weeks.