by Gary Nichols
RUGBY UNION: Craig Howe's passion for the game and association with Combined High Schools (CHS) rugby could give the Redmen a winning edge next season.
Howe has been confirmed as first grade coach of the Grafton Redmen for the 2018 season.
The Grafton High physical education teacher has an impressive resume that stretches back to 1999.
"The timing was right to undertake the job,” Howe said. "In the past I have been heavily involved with CHS coaching and doing that role probably didn't lend itself to coaching local rugby.
"Now I have stepped away from that role and have solely been a selector this year for CHS.
"Everything I've learnt while associated with CHS should transfer really well over to the Redmen. I've worked with guys like Manu Sullivan, who has been the ARU head of junior player development and Tim Rapp, the current Waratahs under-20s coach.
"We should be able to feed that knowledge to our players next season, and who knows, some of our younger players might improve to the point where they can move to places like Sydney and play at a higher level.”
Last season both Redmen sides featured in the Mid North Coast Rugby finals series, with second grade reaching the grand final.
A Level 2 accredited coach, Howe said the way forward was to have fit sides capable of playing up-tempo rugby and for both grades to work closely as a playing group.
"I think we need to build on last season, which in terms of results and club culture, was a big step forward from previous years,” he said.
"We can still do a bit more in terms of first and second grade being a cohesive unit so that guys in second grade feel like there is an opportunity to move up into first grade if they deserve it.
"In terms of winning, I'm not looking at a three-year plan ... I want to win the competition next season.”
In further news, Gary Wilson has been elected as second-grade coach after helping guide them to a grand final berth in 2017.
Incoming Redmen president Sean Austin said he was delighted with the appointments of Howe and Wilson for next season.
"It's exciting to have Craig and Gus (Gary Wilson) on board as coaches for 2017. Both have plenty of experience, impressive resumes and a real passion for the game,” Austin said.