ALL good things come to an end and, ominously for the Forster-Tuncurry Dolphins, it came in game 13 of the Lower Mid North Coast rugby union premiership.
They experienced their first defeat of the season against the exciting first-year club, the Myall Coast Mudcrabs, losing the major semi-final, 11-25, at wind-swept Peter Barclay Field, Tuncurry, on Saturday.
As Dolphins skipper Tom Harris later pungently observed, touching the nerve of his team’s one try to three loss to the Mudcrabs: “No mongrel!”
More significantly with the Dolphins now needing to beat last year’s champions, the re-emerging Old Bar Clams, in next Saturday’s preliminary final at Tuncurry, another loss will mean their elimination from a competition which has provided so much entertainment and promised so much local esteem in the Great Lakes.
On Sunday, the Clams broke the shackles of an enormously frustrating winter after three qualifying game defeats, matches washed out and transferred from their new headquarters at Trad Fields, and two games forfeited, again due to the weather, by inflicting an end-of-season three tries to two and 18-15 defeat on the Wallamba Bulls in the minor semi-final, yet another game transferred to Tuncurry.
After their first-round 33-0 trouncing of the Mudcrabs, marked by superior forward technique and back line creativity, the Dorvik Steel Dolphins rarely appeared physically able to withstand the challenge of the Mudcrabs, most of the steel coming from the visitors’ pack whose back row of Tom Davy, Elliot St George and captain Dayne Applebee hammered and harassed the Dolphins relentlessly at the breakdown.
Events conspired against the Dolphins with outstanding hooker Rick Clifton unable to start due to a calf muscle strain and injuries to forwards in the game hampering their set pieces. But while James Clarke’s scrum remained solid enough through props Ben Manning, Lee Crozier and Colin Harris, and with Jack Woods and Ryan Scott cutting even in the lineouts, their defense was poor with as many as 14 tackles missed and with passes going astray to end attacking movements.
The Dolphins forwards’ lack of purpose and inability to provide a clean service led to half Tim Chilton often receiving poor delivery, making his tireless and courageous performance all the more praiseworthy.
The Dolphins ran with the southerly gale, estimated to be worth two tries, only for Myall’s four successive penalties to limit the Dolphins’ early offensives. Centre Sam Leigh and flanker Tom Bolton were required to do tremendous tackling in midfield to choke off their rivals’ attacks, but it came as no surprise when No 8 Applebee evaded two poor tackles and raced 30 metres for the 30th minute try.
Just before half time, Colin Harris shrugged off tacklers to send flanker Troy Haines through midfield and with Myall on the retreat, Tom Harris weaved and dummied his way to the line for the Dolphins to seize an all too brief 11-7 lead.
The Mudcrabs soon regained the lead through their forwards’ pressure on the Dolphins’ line with tall play-maker, Ben Simon, sending husky lock Blake Gibson charging over for the critical try. Eight minutes from the end fullback Brendan Cusack revealed his pace for a third try through broken defence to secure the grand final position.
The following afternoon, husky No 8 Chris Marchant played a massive game for the Clams, scoring two of his team’s three tries in an exciting and gruelling affair against the Bulls. Wallamba centre Chris Tout landed a whopping down-wing 58-metre penalty goal to endanger the Clams, but the defending champions forged their win on a forward-based, pick and drive game, which continues to trouble all teams.
LMNC Major semi-final: MYALL COAST 25 (D Applebee B Gibson B Cusack tries; A Jervis 2 goals 2 pen goals) beat FORSTER-TUNCURRY 11 (T Harris try; L Crozier 2 pen goals). LMNC minor semi-final: OLD BAR 18 (C Marchant 2 R Hawkins tries; J McLeod pen goal) beat WALLAMBA 15 (N Watts 2 tries; C Tout goal pen goal). MYALL COAST advance to grand final on Saturday week at Myall Oval, Hawks Nest. FORSTER-TUNCURRY to play OLD BAR in preliminary final next Saturday at Peter Barclay Field, Tuncurry.