THE season’s end came in the last fateful moments of the preliminary final for the Forster-Tuncurry Dolphins with the Old Bar Clams achieving a last-gasp try a minute before full-time in the Lower Mid North Coast rugby union premiership on Saturday, consigning the Dolphins’ unbeaten minor premiership to the surplus baggage department.
After a season of much trial and tribulation, no win was sweeter for the Clams as they advanced to their fifth successive LMNC grand final, three tries to two and 19-18, ending the Dolphins’ splendid season which promised so much and produced so little after 12 successive bonus point wins in the minor premiership.
The Clams now make the 100-kilometre plus journey to Hawks Nest on Saturday to meet the first-season club, the Myall Coast Mudcrabs, in the premiership-deciding grand final at Myall Oval.
The Clams’ win hinged on a critical decision in the 76th minute when the Dolphins were awarded a penalty 30 metres out and conveniently near the left hand upright, a comfortable enough kick for the Dolphins’ sharp-shooter, Lee Crozier. Leading 15-14 and with his forwards scrummaging well and maintaining control in Clams territory, skipper Tom Harris’ opinion was to ignore the three points and retain possession, take the tap and sustain pressure on the Clams in the last minutes.
Harris was out-voted from the coaches’ bench. Crozier duly notched the penalty goal to extend the Dolphins’ lead to 18-14, but it also brought the ball 50 metres down-field for the kick-off where a Dolphin knock-on ensured Teia Ambrosoli’s powerful pack retained possession from the scrum and mauled the ball towards the Dolphins’ try line.
Nearing the last minute, the Clams moved the ball across the Dolphins’ quarter, halves Riley Hawkins and Stuart Bonds making full use of their back line with wide sweeping passes until winger Chris Holden was set free to hurl himself into the left wing corner for the crucial try.
The conversion attempt failed whereupon referee David Rogers blew full-time to detonate understandable Clams jubilation.
Running into the south-westerly, the Dolphins’ began impressively, number eight Ryan Scott careering through the Clams’ defences for 40 metres for what seemed an astonishing first-minute try only for referee Rogers to disallow it for a perceived forward pass involving Tom Harris.
Three minutes later Scott had some compensation, surging over for the opening try from Jack Woods’ lineout jump only for the Dolphins to come under 10 minutes of pressure from Ambrosoli’s forwards, initiated by former NSW Country representative Bonds’40-metre break, the movement finishing when Clams supports failed to reach him.
Capitalising on his forwards’ possession, Clams livewire flanker Chad Lambert completed the period of domination to level the score, seven-all. But upon the half-hour, Forster five-eighth Jamie Fernando weaved his way through the Clams’ defense to send fullback Mark Hagarty spearing into the left wing corner for the try and a 12-7 lead.
Whenever they had possession the Clams used it well through their forwards, picking and driving, crashing forward. In the 47th minute, Bonds provided his team with the lead, joining a rolling maul and surging over for the try.
Confronting a sudden-death outcome, mistakes were plentiful, one judge remarking that he was observing two teams both intent on losing the final. Only impatience created errors to prevent the Dolphins taking a match-winning grasp on the game.
Both teams began with injury concerns, the Dolphins having to move hooker Rick Clifton to breakaway due to a pulled calf muscle, James Clarke returning to his former position where he acquitted himself well by collecting a smart tight-head. For the Clams big prop Kai Barnes displayed great commitment to play for an hour after being stretchered from the field a week previously following a heavy knock.
Old Bar 19 (C Lambert S Bonds C Holden tries; J McLeod 2 goals) beat Forster-Tuncurry 18 (R Scott M Hagarty tries; L Crozier goal pen goal J Fernando pen goal. Old Bar advance to season-ending grand final against Myall Coast next Saturday at Myall Oval, Hawks Nest.