Strong Ipswich contingent in Queensland side
FOUR Ipswich competition players and a successful regional coach will help Queensland chase higher honours at the Australian Country carnival starting this weekend.
Norths A-graders Mark Pocock and Aaron O'Bierne will be joined by Easts speedsters Chris Mantell and Steve Bayliss in the 16-strong state country squad.
The combination contesting the week-long championships in Toowoomba is coached by Wests A-grade player Nathan Hooper.
Hooper has enjoyed success coaching club, Ipswich and South West Queensland sides in recent years.
He is re-uniting with manager Steve Hawthorne, from Toowoomba.
Hawthorne is a decorated former Queensland Country representative who coached the South West team that recently won the Super League title.
"We've got a core group that's from the South West team, which is going to make it easy," Hooper said. "But we need to integrate the people that are coming from Cairns and Rocky and Sunshine Coast and Gympie.
"It's just about making sure the boys are all on the same page."
Hooper is excited about the state-wide combination chosen for his first stint as country coach.
The goal is to end Queensland's recent title-winning drought.
"It's another chance to prove myself at a higher level," he said.
"It's a really good challenge to actually go away with a team for a longer period of time than just the weekend.
"It's another step in the coaching career and hopefully we get Queensland back to where they need to be - number one."
The Queensland squad went into camp yesterday.
"We shook the team up a little bit this year and left out some players who have been around a while," Hooper said.
"We've picked some guys on form and hope that some young guys that we've picked, that are really exciting prospects, have the ability to step up to that next level and play some good hockey."
Queensland's first game is tomorrow afternoon against the Australian Defence Force team which includes other Ipswich competition players Chris Fazel and Thom Millar (Easts) and Warwick Smith (Wests).
Norths' goal-scoring ace Dean Jeffrey is again playing for South Australia.
An Australian Country team will be selected after the championships to tour Malaysia.
An Australian under-21 side is also being picked to play in a tournament in Fiji.
Dual-registered Ipswich-based teenager Jade Emblem is representing the Queensland Country women's team at the championships.
Queensland men's matches at the Australian Country Championships in Toowoomba starting tomorrow.
- Tomorrow (5pm): v Australian Defence Force.
- Sunday (11.45am): v Western Australia.
- Monday (1.30pm): v Victoria.
- Tuesday (8.15am): v South Australia.
- Thursday (10am): v NSW.
Semi-finals are next Friday with the final on the Saturday.