RUGBY LEAGUE: NRL trail game. Cowboys Vs Titans. Titans’ Will Matthews. Matthews has signed for the Moranbah Miners. Photo: File
RUGBY LEAGUE: NRL trail game. Cowboys Vs Titans. Titans’ Will Matthews. Matthews has signed for the Moranbah Miners. Photo: File

Former Manly, Dragons and Titans stars join Moranbah Miners

Hundreds of games worth of NRL and Queensland Cup experience will lead the Moranbah Miners into the 2021 Rugby League Mackay and District season.

The club has welcomed a host of notable names – some household – ahead of a return to the RLMD set-up, after sitting out last year’s restructured season due to COVID-19.

Perhaps the most notable addition to local footy fans is that of former Mackay Cutters skipper Cooper Bambling, who departed the Intrust Super Cup side for the Miners last off-season.

Cooper Bambling.
Cooper Bambling.

But Bambling is not the only former Queensland Cup star set to call Moranbah home this go around.

Former CQ Capras and Easts Tigers second-rower Bill Cullen and outside back Sam Smith – also formerly of the Capras, and most recently part of the Manly Sea Eagles’ senior NRL squad — will join him.

Miners coach Paul Bramley said the trio had all previously played together in the Cowboys U20s and would bring a great deal of experience to the club’s local playing contingent.

Another former Cutter, prop Liam McDonald, joins the Miners to play under Bramley more than a decade after the pair combined to help Souths Logan claim the 2008 Queensland Cup crown.

Bill Cullen
Bill Cullen

With more than 200 games’ of state league experience, McDonald’s knowledge will be just as beneficial as his work in the trenches.

And the Miners’ glut of big game players does not stop with the Queensland Cup.

Former Gold Coast Titans and St George Illawarra backrower Will Matthews has again committed to play for the club, after previously signing on for the abandoned 2020 campaign.

Matthews has 111 NRL caps to his name.

“Sam Smith and Will Matthews have just come out of NRL systems. They’re some of the ones really driving a change in how we train and what’s expected at training,” Bramley said.

“I’ve seen a big improvement from last pre-season to this pre-season, particularly in our local players, which to me has been the most pleasing aspect as a coach.”

Former Gladstone Valleys and CQ Capras player Sam Smith.
Former Gladstone Valleys and CQ Capras player Sam Smith.

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The coach said he would “always look” to add depth to his squad, but for now was comfortable with the calibre of player at his disposal ahead of a return to training next Thursday.

Whether or not the quality playing list can translate to wins remains to be seen, particularly with the fickle nature of players’ work rosters.

It led Bramley to declare it was “way too early” to talk finals or even wins next season.

“We just don’t know what team I’ll put on the park each week,” he said.

“When all the moons align then yes, we’ll be a competitive football side. If that’s enough to get us into a finals position I’d be over the moon. That would be like winning the comp for us.”

One area of concern for Bramley will be at hooker, with incumbent rake Paul Aiton departing the club to take up a coaching role with the Papua New Guinea Hunters.

He said Aiton’s younger brother Chris would likely get first shot at filling the hole left by the outgoing former Catalans Dragons number nine.

Paul Aiton has left the Miners to take up an assistant coaching role with the PNG Hunters. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)
Paul Aiton has left the Miners to take up an assistant coaching role with the PNG Hunters. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

“They were going to share the role this season,” Bramley said.

“Chris will go close to playing 80 (minutes) but because of the roster rotation I won’t have him every week.

“But we have some good young guys here who we’ll train up to get ready.”

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