TWO clubs yet to win the premiership of the Lower Mid North Coast rugby union competition will continue striving to spoil the Forster Tuncurry club’s party and end the Dolphins’ four-year sequence of titles when they clash in the preliminary final at Nabiac tomorrow.
Manning River Ratz displayed enough pace and strength in their 60-5 semi-final dismissal of the Myall Coast Mudcrabs last weekend to suggest they could overcome the Wallamba Bulls if their youthful pack withstands the heat of the scrums which ominously bar their way.
The pity for the Ratz in the circumstances that they have lost for the season two of their most hardened forwards in classy No 8 Sam Harnett (surgery) and rugged lock David Rees (suspension).
The evidence of three wins from the clubs’ three clashes – 34-14, 40-3 and 27-0 – makes the Bulls warm favourites to advance to tomorrow week’s grand final at the Dolphins’ headquarters at Peter Barclay Field, Tuncurry.
The Ratz can anticipate a torrid reception at the hands of the Bulls’ forwards, led by skipper Aaron Gordon. They have a big tight five and, as seen against the Dolphins last weekend, powerful scrummagers beside hooker Daniel Sawyer in Chris Phieffer, Gordon and Paul De Szell.
Prop forwards Chris Noonan, 20, and Stephen Fitzsimmons, 18, are two of the most exciting young props in the competition for the Ratz, both well built front rowers and able ball-runnners, but still learning the tricks and demands of the scrummaging trade.
Fitzsimmons is a cousin of the Ratz’ splendid captain and halfback, Chris Fitzsimmons. Two big men of importance to the team are the Howard brothers, Blake, 21, and Brodie, 20. Blake is in the second row beside Tim Rogers with Brodie at outside-centre.
Neither team is outstanding at the lineout with Rogers and flankers Steve Taylor and James Grainger the main ball-winners for the Ratz and the Hessing brothers, Rhys and Daniel, providing possession for the Bulls.
Rhys Hessing continues as one of the most tenacious flankers in the competition and his scrapping at the breakdown with Taylor and Jake Abbott will be no place for the faint-hearted.
Significantly, Daniel Hessing left the field with injury last Saturday in the major semi-final 17-9 loss to the Dolphins, never a good sign for the club’s champion, renowned for his 80-minute performances.
Provided their forwards maintain a secure scrum and win possession, the Ratz have pace in their back line to score tries and trouble the Bulls, winger Jack Chapman scorching the Mudcrabs with two glorious long-range tries last Saturday and Luke Bartlett a most capable goal-kicker.
Five-eighth Josh Ross has emerged as one of the finds of the season for the Ratz, a courageous and enterprising young five-eighth. Nearby is the fullback-cum-pivot Izaak Solomon, an influential figure in coach Jake Maurirere’s plans.
Behind all young men are guiding hands such as skipper Chris Fitzsimmons, No 8 Wayne Gahan, lock Rogers and hooker Jonathan Simmonds. The Ratz will need to be efficient and enterprising tomorrow against the Bulls, the winners advancing to the grand final.…both clubs sharing the ambition and need of an initial premiership.