RAIN wrecked sport along the coast, but it was fine in the mountains as the Forster-Tuncurry Dolphins extended their unbeaten rugby union season to eight successive wins with a 24-10 success over Gloucester on Saturday.
There are few more majestic football venues in Australia than in the vale of Avon with the Bucketts ramparts rearing behind the township, and if Gloucester No 2 Oval’s shallows of water made conditions greasy, the rugby was always hard and entertaining with the Dolphins running in a bonus point fourth try.
“Eight straight sounds nice,” the Dorvik Steel Dolphins’ skipper, Tom Harris, said in one of his longer speeches, “but you don’t win the cup after eight games.”
Old Bar’s crucial game against Myall Coast and Wallamba’s clash with Manning River were washed out with both matches now rescheduled for July 14, the date initially programmed for the triangular intra-zone representative trials at Old Bar, a well-intentioned series now abandoned.
The Gloucester Cockies are always generous hosts with a leathery, country welcome for visitors off the field and a bruising reception on it. So it proved again on Saturday with David Cox’s pack giving the Dolphins one of their most torrid scrummaging afternoons.
More testing times lie ahead for the Lower Mid North Coast competition leaders with just four rounds remaining before the play-offs begin early in August.
The Cockies jumped away well with LMNC representative No 8-cum-pivot, Jamie “Emu” Andrews, chipping a delightful placement behind the Dolphins’ back line for fullback Tom Markey to sweep into the corner for the opening try.
The next half hour belonged to the Dolphins, and especially man of the match, Sam Leigh, dangerous every time he touched the ball and weaving 45 metres through a maze of defenders for a magnificent try.
Right winger Michael Johnson carved his way downfield, linking with envaluable utility Tom Bolton for Tom Harris to delay his pass splendidly to fullback David Birch, who surged over for the try.
Strong prop Colin Harris and versatile winger Jack Woods came off the bench to play important cameo roles, both completing their performances with tries as Ricky Clifton’s pack edged the Cockies in the lineouts through Ryan Scott and Ryan Fenning.
The Cockies’ front row of Ben Williams, Cox and Darren Crane and later Dan Delahunty are not there for their looks, but, serviced by tenacious half, Andy Paynter, they conceded not a single tight-head.
The story of the 43-year-old hooker Cox is remarkable. A builder by trade, he drove a nail through his thigh to the bone a year ago, was rushed to Manning Base Hospital in a 200-kilomere an hour ambulance dash, his life under threat lest an artery was severed, gave away coaching and returned to rack up 235 games.
The Cockies sorely miss the midfield penetration of Michael Plain and though Tom Middlebrook is due back from overseas, time is short if they are to qualify for the semi-finals through the likes of centre Scott Batey and winger Ray Pittman beyond their halfback pairing of Paynter and Andrews.
Next Saturday, second-placed Myall Coast (37 points) play Harrington at Hawks Nest; Manning River (24) meet Old Bar (28) at Taree Rugby Park; and Forster (48) play Wallamba (24) at Tuncurry. Gloucester (23 points) have the bye.
Forster-Tuncurry 24 (D Birch J Woods S Leigh C Harris tries; L Crozier goal J Fernando goal) beat Gloucester 10 (T Markey try; M Wooster goal pen goal).