“It’s time to play footy.”

That’s the message from an excited – maybe even slightly impatient – Greymouth Greyhounds coach Kurt Dixon ahead on the eve of one of the most significant days in West Coast Rugby League’s modern history and a momentous occasion for the CRL Whitehead Plumbing & Gas Men’s Premiership.

The Greyhounds make their debut in Canterbury Rugby League’s top-flight club competition on Saturday, hosting Halswell Hornets at what promises to be a heaving Wingham Park in Greymouth.

April 6 has been circled in the calendar for some time – and after a gruelling off-season preparing for the jump up, the Greyhounds players are fizzing to burst out of the starting box.

“They’re looking forward to it – the first game at home in the top grade, I think they’ll be ready to go,” Dixon says.

“I think there will be some nerves – why wouldn’t there be? – but they’ll have a hell of a crowd behind them. We’ll use that as an advantage and feed off that.

“Guys can run out in front of a big crowd and get stage-fright, but they’ll realise the crowd is there for them.”

The Greyhounds’ elevation to the CRL Whitehead Plumbing & Gas Men’s Premiership comes on the back of two outstanding seasons in the ISC Canterbury Cup, where they were the standout team throughout 2023 before getting tipped up in a home semi-final.

But Dixon and his charges are well aware the premiership is another level altogether – and they’ve put in the hard yards over the summer.

“We had always planned to start in December and give them a good blowout,” the coach explains.

“A lot of them have been doing their own stuff – the gym, and a lot of road running like the old days – and some of the big boys have definitely been putting in the extra k’s.

“They’re going to need to be at a level to play [in the premiership], we might not match it with teams [for size] but we need to go down another avenue and be the fittest team around.”

The nucleus of Greymouth’s ISC Canterbury Cup squad has been bolstered by the return of the likes of Regan Stanton, who featured in Hornby’s drive to the 2019 CRL grand final, and former South Island Scorpions 20s rep Jacob Lowe, who is back from rugby union.

There’s also some newcomers in the squad, some who will feature for ISC Canterbury Cup affiliate Papanui Tigers in Saturday’s curtain-raiser against the Hornets.

“I didn’t have to persuade them – they could see this is a good challenge with a good bunch of lads,” Dixon enthuses.

“It’s going to be to see these guys get in there and mix it with the ones that have been there the last couple of years in the [Canterbury Cup].”

Meanwhile, former West Coast coach Phil Campbell has joined the Greyhounds’ cause to assist Dixon.

Anticipation is rising to fever pitch in Greymouth ahead of a huge afternoon at Wingham Park. The locals have been whipping the iconic venue into shape in preparation.

“It’s a small town and you don’t have to go far before someone sees you and says, ‘such-and-such has been talking about the old ’Hounds’ – and we’ve actually got a couple of greyhounds coming out on the ground on Saturday,” Dixon says.

“We’ve sort of gone all out, you may as well make the most of it. We’ve got a few things happening at the park … you can sense the excitement and the weather looks good, I imagine it’ll be a bumper crowd.

“There’s been a hell of a lot of work done out there – putting new toilets in, new gates, new path off the main road. The field needs to be ripped up and resown next year but it’s still in pretty good nick.

“It’s the home of rugby league, so it’s good it’s had a bit of a makeover and there’s plenty of people out there putting big voluntary hours to do these little jobs that all count.”

Dixon revealed Greymouth’s partnership with Papanui is already proving beneficial and expects it bear fruit for both clubs as the season progresses.

The clubs had an in-house trial during the pre-season, while there’s several Tigers keen to push for a top-grade opportunity in the Greyhounds’ line-up – particularly in the middle-forward department.

The arrangement also allows the Greyhounds’ Canterbury-based tertiary students have somewhere to train during the week.

“It’s going good – it’s never going to be all smooth sailing, there’s going to be times where we want our guys playing and their players playing, which is understandable.

“But at the moment it’s working and I think it will work.

“And I hope one day they get back in [the premiership], because that’s the goal. Our goal is to have two teams – imagine that, having an As and a Bs team? It would be tough with the travel and sponsorship, we’ve got good backers but you’re always chasing for stuff.

“We’ve got good people behind us and I’m just wrapped for the boys, they’ve put all the effort in, so roll on gameday.”

The Thacker Shield also goes on the line at Wingham Park. The Greyhounds won the revived prize in the first match of the new home challenge format in 2023 and defended it successfully until the end of the season. The Hornets will be fired up to head back over the Southern Alps with the 111-year-old shield in their keeping.

The Waro-Rakau team that ended West Coast’s 13-year Thacker Shield drought in 1994 have organised a reunion at Wingham Park to coincide with the 30-year anniversary of their triumph over Papanui.



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