LEADING THE PACK: Roy Bell is coming back to Casino to captain-coach the Cougars in NRRRL next season.
LEADING THE PACK: Roy Bell is coming back to Casino to captain-coach the Cougars in NRRRL next season. Marc Stapelberg

Saved by the bell at the Cougars

A RETURNING Roy Bell will captain-coach Casino where he will be joined by former NRL player Esi Tonga in Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League next season.

Bell, 34, comes back to the club having had one of his best seasons where he helped lead Mullumbimby to the semi-finals for the first time since 2009.

He replaces Brett Loy who he played under in 2016 while Tonga joins an influx of former NRL players with Todd Carney and Jamie Lyon signed to Byron Bay and Ballina next season.

"Roy has always played well out here and we knew we had to go fishing for something big when Brett stepped down,” Casino Cougars president Geoff Scofield said.

"We offered him the chance to take on a coaching role and he was really keen on that.

"He's always been a terrific player and we're excited to see how he goes as a coach.”

Tonga, 30, comes to the club having played for Gold Coast, Manly and the Parramatta Eels in the NRL between 2008-2013.

He is the younger brother of Willie Tonga who represented Australia and Queensland in the centres during his career.

Esi has played most of his rugby league in the centres but will join the Cougars forward pack to add more size and experience.

"He was playing in Canberra last year but was keen to move back this way for family reasons,” Scofield said.

"Roy and him got to talking at one of the knock-out carnivals recently and it all came together from there.

"We were looking for some extra size in the forwards and he'll bring plenty to the team having played in the NRL.”

The Cougars have also maintained the services of halfback Trevor Bolt, fullback David Jacky and second-rower Theo Hippi along with a stack of local talent.

Casino will be the envy of other teams with Bell and Bolt together in the halves, both are among the top halfbacks in the competition.

"Trevor will have more freedom with Roy there to organise and marshall the troops,” Scofield said.

"We had a good team this season and we're hoping that these few extra signings will be the icing on the cake.”