Sattler: Blackhawks add to northern dynasty
The balance of power in the Intrust Super Cup has shifted northward in recent years and Channel Nine commentator Scott Sattler believes the addition of the Townsville Blackhawks only adds to the stranglehold.
Twelve months after the Mackay Cutters claimed Queensland Rugby League's premier crown the Northern Pride were triumphant last season and then went on to upset an NRL-laden Penrith Panthers in the inaugural State Championship on NRL Grand Final day.
It was a ringing endorsement not only for the quality of the Intrust Super Cup but of the strength of rugby league in North Queensland and the talent identification programs that brought the likes of Blake Leary, Shaun Nona, Davin Crampton and Ben Spina to the attention of NRL clubs.
The Intrust Super Cup kicks off this weekend when the Blackhawks make their maiden appearance at Jack Manski Oval in Townsville against fellow Cowboys feeder team, the Mackay Cutters.
Despite only receiving the go-ahead for 2015 in September the Blackhawks have assembled a squad of players brimming with both NRL experience and untapped potential.
Queensland Origin star Neville Costigan headlines a forward pack that also boasts the likes of Ricky Thorby and Anthony Mitchell while in the backs former under-20s standouts Michael Parker-Walshe, Jonathan Reuben, Mosese Pangai and Wayne Ulugia are looking to reignite their NRL careers.
In former Cowboys NYC coach Kristian Woolf the Blackhawks have a mentor who has already worked with many of the young players in the squad and Sattler sees no reason that they can't have an immediate impact on the competition, starting with Saturday's Round 1 meeting with Mackay.
"I'm really excited about the Blackhawks. That's probably what I'm most excited about, the Blackhawks," Sattler told NRL.com of the looming Intrust Super Cup season.
"It's a pretty impressive sort of line-up and with the backing of the Cowboys as well. The Townsville Blackhawks boast a pretty imposing sort of a line-up at the moment and being within a drop punt of 1300SMILES [Stadium] they're not having to get on planes to Cairns or Mackay when they're not on NRL duties.
"They've been really impressive in the way they've put together a squad."
Although the Blackhawks will be based in the shadows of the Cowboys' home ground in Townsville North Queensland-contracted players not selected in the NRL team will continue to be split between the Blackhawks, Northern Pride and Mackay Cutters.
While Sattler expressed some concerns that the Cutters may receive the short shrift in terms of player allocation he believes the professionalism of the Cowboys organisation will ensure all three clubs are among the competition front-runners in 2015.
"The Cowboys have always been a pretty stable club operationally so I've got no doubt that (football manager) Peter Parr and (head coach) Paul Green and (assistant coach) Jason Demetriou will have a pretty streamlined system in place that allows all three clubs to have their fair share of quality players," said Sattler.
"I'm glad to hear Ben Spina is going to stay with the Pride if he's not on NRL duty [with the Cowboys]. It shows great loyalty and I think it makes sense."
The Northern Pride will begin the defence of their Intrust Super Cup title under new coach Joe O'Callaghan against their grand final opponents Easts Tigers at Langlands Park in Brisbane on Sunday, the Channel Nine match of the round.
The other exciting prospect according to Sattler is how the PNG Hunters fare in their second season in the competition having missed a spot in the playoffs by a solitary point in 2014.
"The first thing I do when I get our roster for the first five to seven games that we are going to televise is to look at when we're doing a PNG Hunters game," Sattler said.
"That's how excited I get by watching and commentating the PNG Hunters because there's a free and easy approach to rugby league.
"Some people may suggest second-year syndrome and everyone will be expecting what they throw at you but that's the beauty of the Hunters, you don't know what they're going to throw at you.
"They're physically intimidating and I think a year in the competition will be great for them in regards to understanding not only the game and the intensity but also the travel requirements.
"The Hunters found it really hard from about Round 15-16 onwards when the season was just getting a little bit too long for them because they weren't used to the workload. They'll be better for the experience in everything from operational staff all the way down to the players and knowing how to prepare for the season's campaign."