Hendo keen to take on Yenda at knockout

Group 20 rugby league

GRIFFITH product Michael Henderson suspects the football gods may have played a part in setting up his Riverina rugby league homecoming against Yenda at the West Wyalong Knockout.

The new Temora captain-coach is raring to go for his first game in the region since leaving the Waratah Tigers as a youngster to pursue an NRL career.

But that it comes against the Group 20 preliminary finalists is an intriguing twist of fate for Henderson, who was informally sounded out by the 'Tahs - one of Yenda's biggest rivals - when word broke of his availability for this season.

Henderson has been in regular contact with his Blueheelers counterpart Roy Romeo ever since and said he was looking forward to the challenge that awaits at the lucrative pre-season tournament.

"It's funny how it's worked out," he told The Area News. 

"I've actually been in contact with Swampy over the last couple of months and we've been having a bit of joke about getting each other - and we did, first game. 

"I know a lot of guys in the side and I've played with a few of them, as well, so it'll be interesting to come up against them."

Romeo said the Blueheelers will learn plenty coming up against the 119-game NRL star, who spent time with St George-Illawarra and the Gold Coast Titans.

"It'll be a good experience for our boys to come up against an ex-NRL player," he said.

Henderson will have an insight into how the Blueheelers operate through new signing Tim Rice, who will make his first appearance for Temora off the bench.

"We had our first bit of contact work the other night and he went over a couple of blokes, so that was nice," Henderson laughed.

"He's been playing there for a long time and knows them pretty well."

Both sides will be missing numerous first-graders. 

Yenda's co-coach Kodie Charles is still nursing an ankle injury, while Geff Cook and Steve Richards are also definite outs and star hooker Jarrod Williams is only a slight chance of being available.

Tonight is Romeo's first chance to assess his halves options in a game situation after the departure of playmakers Shannon Rupapere and David Rauluni.

The Blueheelers will likely cycle three players through the two positions - new signings Will Hannon, Josh Curphey and Kiwi import Dominique Richbell-Tekira - in search of the right combination.

At just 18, the classy Richbell-Tekira will be eased into first-grade action but is highly-rated at the club and previously represented New Zealand at touch football.

Another young gun, Country NSW representative Shorne Ngu, will only take his place in the squad if he can overcome a minor hamstring complaint.

Romeo said a first-grade position on the wing is there for Ngu's taking if he is good enough this year.

"If he wants it, he'll get a crack for sure," he said.

"A lot of people will be fighting for positions which is a good place to be at and the boys are pretty keen.

"We're not going to gel overnight but when we do we'll be pretty competitive and pretty hard to beat, I reckon. 

"We're pretty confident with the direction we're headed."

The winner will face Orange CYMS on Saturday.

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