The task proved as rigorous as expected before the Forster-Tuncurry Dolphins broke the wall and overcame the Wallamba Bulls to extend their rugby union season to a ninth successive win at Tuncurry on Saturday.
The Dorvik Steel Dolphins ran in yet another bonus point try, but were anything but decisive in their four tries to three and 29-15 defeat of the Bulls, a score-line flattering to the Lower Mid North Coast competition leaders and hardly reflective of the losers’ spirited performance. Former Dolphins premiership-winning captain, Mark Hudson, remarked admiringly “The Bulls gave it to us in the forwards. They are playing well and will worry some sides.”
At Taree Rugby Park, Old Bar secured their hold on third position behind the Dolphins and Myall Coast Mudcrabs with a tough, hard-earned two tries to one and 13-5 defeat of the Manning River Ratz while Myall overwhelmed Harrington, 83-0, at Hawks Nest. The Wallamba Bulls have one of the most penetrative back lines in the seven-club competition and the power of their centre combination of Jared Wynter and Thomas Dooker required Dolphins winger Steve Stanton and fullback Mark Hagarty to make three desperate try-saving tackles in the first half hour. It came as no surprise therefore when the Bulls’ forward energy and back line momentum saw Dooker send James Palmer down the line with a beautiful pass into the corner for the first try after 20 absorbing minutes.
The Dolphins rallied through the lineout superiority of Ryan Fenning and Ryan Scott, snatching the lead with two tries in as many minutes just before half-time with Chris Simon and Troy Haines breaking quickly from a strong scrum base and Scott wading through tacklers from a poor clearing kick. Six minutes into the second half, Ricky Clifton’s scrum drove the Bulls’ pack back and number eight Scott stepped his way through for the critical try and a 19-5 lead. Daniel Hessing, the best open-side flanker produced in this competition in a decade, now adjusting to hooker, claimed two tight-heads for Wallamba with his pack exerting an effective second shove only for Clifton to steal the show by running 40 metres with a strained calf muscle for the try beneath the posts.
Normally, Clifton would have been replaced only for replacement hooker, the hard-tackling James Clarke, to have been back-slammed by prop Jeremy Segol and forced to leave the field.
If Ryan Scott, “the Gunnedah kid”, was man-of-the-match with his two tries, bold running and aerial work, the slick passing of five-eighth Jamie Fernando was a sight for sore eyes. Like Scott, he has been an invaluable addition to the club. Essentially, the difference on the day was the goal-kicking of Forster’s dependable Lee Crozier, who drove over three conversions and a penalty goal while Chris Tout, usually so reliable, missed all four shots for goal. To concern within the Dolphins’ camp, consistent lock Ryan Fenning was helped off with what appeared a serious knee injury.
As the season draws on and injuries mount, the value of utility players such as Tom Bolton, Jack Woods and Colin Harris and semi-retired Mark Hudson and David Birch rises to new heights. Forster-Tuncurry 29 defeated Wallamba 15. Old Bar 13 defeated Manning River 5. Myall Coast 83 defeated Harrington 0. Next Saturday: Postponed 10th round games: Old Bar versus Myall Coast at Old Bar; Wallamba versus Manning River at Nabiac. Harrington and Forster-Tuncurry have the bye.