STAR QUALITY: Action from the Byron Bay Rugby Sevens last year.
STAR QUALITY: Action from the Byron Bay Rugby Sevens last year.

Sevens kicks off this weekend

FORMER rugby league stars, Super 14 rugby players and Australian Sevens representatives will form one of the strongest fields to contest the 20th Coopers Railway Friendly Bar Byron Bay rugby union sevens this weekend.

Sevens co-ordinator Stuart Mackell is surprised at the number of high-level teams entered, including two from Fiji and two from New Zealand.

Making for an interesting mix, Australian Sevens coach and former Wallaby and Manly league star Michael O'Connor will be on hand to run his eye over the talent.

“I think it will be the strongest in the 20 years,” Mackell said.

“We have last year's winners, Uprising Beach Resort, who are a Fiji team coming back, while the Bulldogs from New Zealand, who finished runners-up last year, will also play.”

Other line-ups expected to shake up the tournament include Premium Blend, a team with a host of former Wollongbar players now playing Sydney first grade along with Queensland Reds Super 14 flanker Scott Higginbotham and Australian Sevens star Tim Cornforth.

Former winners Brisbane Fiji and another Fijian combination, Brisbane Nadi, are expected to be strong, as are Brisbane first-grade clubs Brothers, Sunnybank and Gold Coast Breakers.

Wainui O Mata round out the New Zealand teams, while the Manly Marlins Sydney grade club will head north hoping to snare some of the $17,500 prizemoney.

The Lloyd McDermott development squad, named the Graduates, will play as will a team of Southern Cross University X-Rats.

The X-Rats, who are holding an SCU Rugby Club reunion at the Sevens, have a team boasting a few Brumbies Academy players.

There are also rumours Brumbies Super 14 player, Australian Sevens captain and former SCU player Henry Vanderglas will pull on the boots for the team.

And the Country King Browns, a team loosely-based on former NSW Country players, have called in former league stars Robbie O'Davis and Nathan Blacklock.

There will be 32 men's teams and 16 women's teams battling it out over two days.

It's a far cry from the first tournament in 1989, when 24 teams contested the event.

“There's always been some good teams. The first tournament was won by Brisbane Wests with Roger Gould (former Wallaby) playing,” Mackell said.

“That first year we had a black-tie ball, called the Strutters Ball, and we had about 220 guys turn up and six women.

“We ducked into town to invite a few backpacker girls out but when they arrived they wanted to go back to town because they were receiving way too much attention.”

Games start from 9am on Saturday and conclude with the men's final on Sunday afternoon.

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