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A manic and motivated Cudgen Headland Surf Life Saving Club is winding back the clock in its pursuit of the 2024 Oakberry Acai NSW Country Championships title, leaning harder than ever into the coaching of an Iron legend to reclaim their throne.

After a dominant near-decade of success for the Far North Coast club, their most recent term as Country Champions ended at six years in 2023 with a heart-wrenchingly tight overall point score loss to this year’s hosts, Warilla-Barrack Point SLSC.

It was the culmination of a long-term strategic and athletic plan targeting a Country Championships title for Warilla, and perhaps came fittingly just a year after a near mirror image result saw them fall just shy of the title themselves.

While all eyes, quite rightly, will fall on the South Coast club as both hosts and defending champions, great anticipation has also been bubbling away at the top end of the state.

Cudgen has prepared as the hunters instead of the hunted for the first time since 2017 at South West Rocks, and it has the potential to alter their approach and motivations.

The verdict from the team, though, is rather unanimous – it’s business as usual, and there’s a familiar face at the heart of it all.

“I think all the confidence and focus sort of stems from Scott McCartney (professional lifeguard and surf sports legend), he’d love that I’ve said that, but it honestly is the truth,” 2023 Open Female Iron runner-up, Hayley Smith said with a laugh.

“But we’re so lucky to have many good coaches and really great coaching all through the age groups. There’s so much involvement and so much help in every aspect.

“Regardless of what our goal for competition is, we are all interested and we’ve got this great togetherness in the group.”

With a squad comprising many Australian and State champions across a variety of ages and disciplines, there’s no shortage of talent among the travelling team in 2024.

To reclaim their throne, though, it’s a game of more than skill. It all starts with teamwork – something Cudgen has in spades.

“Everyone is very close knit and friendly and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Chloe Jones said.

“Country is a great early hit out for us competing to see where we are at fitness- and race-wise leading into State and Aussies and gives us a better idea of things we may need to focus on moving forward.”

“The travel side is exciting too, especially when you know you will be racing for the team’s overall result, not just for your own personal ones,” U15 Aussies Board Champion, Jules Loemker added.

“It always is such an awesome experience and such an honour as well racing for your team and your club.”

While the travel poses its challenges as well, it only adds another element to what is an exciting adventure for the club.

“There is definitely an advantage with racing at your home beach,” Chloe said.

“Not only do you have more competitors from your club and branch there racing but also just having the support of the community behind you makes a huge difference.”

“Country has always been a huge deal for Cudgen surf club, our competitors strive to do the best they can in every race, we always put in our best efforts,” reigning U15 Iron, Surf, Rescue Tube and Beach Sprint Champion, Isabella Tate added.

“To come away with a win in the overall point score again would be huge because our club doesn’t just go down to compete individually, we go down as a team, we prepare as a team, we race as a team, and we will win as a team.”

Wednesday 24 January 2024