After seven months of indoor practices at the Northern Sport Centre, the Prince George Gnats will sink their cleats into real turf today at Kelly Road field.
An icebreaker tournament includes the Gnats, Penticton Harlequins, Williams Lake Rustlers, Prince Rupert Seamen and Terrace Northmen.
Each of the teams will play three games, each consisting of two 20-minute halves.
The Gnats open at 10:30 a.m. against Prince Rupert, followed by the Terrace-Penticton game at 11:15 a.m. The Gnats also play Terrace at 12:45 p.m. and will square off at 2:15 against a select team of players taken from the other teams.
"Because we have an odd number of teams and we want everybody to get three games, they're putting together a combined team to play our guys," said Gnats fly half Troy McKenzie. 'We wanted to be gracious and let guys who don't get to play each other too much get sort of the better of the games, but it will still be great.
"We usually do a home-and-away (series) with one of the Okanagan teams and it's been Vernon the last few years, but Penticton wanted to come up here. We wouldn't see them in league play."
The Gnats have about 30 players to pick from and of that number McKenzie says there's a core of about 20 available for most games.
James Hope will take his usual position today as the Gnats' prop alongside Richard Bundock with Dave McMullen at loose forward, Jaime Sims at hooker and six-foot-six behemoth Brett Tyler filling the lock/No. 8 spot. Fullback Theo Ludwig and wing Zach Bundock are the two of the Gnats' speedsters.
The Central Interior Rugby Union season starts next weekend with the four teams each beginning a six-game schedule. The Gnats open at Williams Lake on Saturday, May 13. They play their home opener June 13 at Kelly Road field against Prince Rupert and also host Williams Lake (June 17) and Terrace (July 15). The Gnats will travel to Terrace (June 24) and Prince Rupert (July 8).
The Northmen won their first-ever league title last year and went on to capture the Saratoga Cup independent club provincial championship when they beat the Vernon Jackals 55-22.
Other games scheduled today at Kelly Road include: Prince Rupert-Terrace, noon; Williams Lake-Penticton, 1:30 p.m.; Prince Rupert-Penticton, 3 p.m.; and Williams Lake-Terrace, 3:45 p.m.
This will be the last year rugby will be played on the Kelly Road field at its current location north of the school. That field will be ripped up later this summer when construction begins on the new Kelly Road secondary school.