NHRU:Merewether debutant follows different path to Two Blues father

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Newcastle Rugby: Merewether debutant follows different path to Two Blues father FAMILY TIES: Ben McCulloch in one of his Wanderers jumpers and son Eli who will make his first-grade debut for Merewether against the Two Blues on on Saturday. Picture: Marina Neil
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FAMILY TIES: Ben McCulloch in one of his Wanderers jumpers and son Eli who will make his first-grade debut for Merewether against the Two Blues on on Saturday. Picture: Marina Neil

FAMILY TIES: Ben McCulloch in one of his Wanderers jumpers and son Eli who will make his first-grade debut for Merewether against the Two Blues on on Saturday. Picture: Marina Neil

TweetFacebookELI McCulloch was destined to play first grade.

Eli’s father, Ben, made his first-grade debut for Wanderers at age 18 in 1989, won a premiership in 1993 and made more than 100 top-grade appearances for the Two Blues.

His godfather, Peter Fallon,is a Wanderers legend.

On Saturday, Eli, also a No.9, will make his run-on debut atNo.2 Sportsground.

However, he won’t be wearing a Two Blues jumper, butrather the myrtlegreen of fierce rivals Merewether.

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“Everyone from the Greens loves playing Wanderers,” the 18-year-old said. “It is a dream to make my first-grade debut against them. Obviously with my dad and PJ (Fallon), they have a bit of history. I started playing at Merewether and never thought about changing. Dad’s photo is on the wall in the Blue Room (at No.2) but I’ve never been in there and don’t plan on going in there. I’m a Green through and through.”

Ben McCulloch laughed that he might have to “sit in the middle” of the grandstand for the season-opening grudge match.

“I would have loved him to play at Wanderers, but he wanted to play with his mates,” McCulloch said. “He is not going to move now. I cop a bit of stick aboutit, butit’s just banter. A lot of my good mates played for Carlton.”

Apart from their club of choice, father and son have followed a similarpath.

Ben, a five-eighth, represented NSW Country in juniors before completing his schooling at Downlands College in Toowoomba where he played alongside future Wallabies Tim Horan and Gareth Morgan and represented Queensland Schools.

Eli came through the NSW Country junior system and was captain on the NSW Under-18s last year.

“He has always had a ball in his hand, passing and kicking,” said Ben, who coached his son’s Merewether teams from under-13s to 18s.

Eli played colts last season but was given a taste of the top grade, with four appearances off the bench.

“That gave me the drive to try and cement a starting spot this season,” he said. “Getting an opportunity in round one is awesome.”

McCulloch is one of four outstanding halfbacks Merewether co-coach Mick Gill has at his disposal.

Ed Clifton, who is in the Newcastle squad, has been selected on the wing, Sam Ernst is in secondsand Lachlan Tonks is injured.

“Eli has the best pass in the club, and one of the best I have seen in the comp for a couple of years,” Gill said.

Merewether meet Wanderers then premiers Hamilton before a bye in round three and a general bye.

“After seeing the draw, we knew we couldn’t be underdone,” Gill said. “We had to speed things up a little bit in terms of fitness and how we want to play.”

Wanderers will field just four players from the side humbled 45-12 in last year’s grand final.

“We are work in progress,” new coach Darren Young said. “We have changed things significantlyto try and reinvigorate the group.”

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