It had everything…..the gnawing intensity of a premiership-deciding game, the aggression and swift movement for four tries by both Wallamba and Forster-Tuncurry, and a similar outcome to last season’s rugby union grand final, without the torment.
In a game offering bush rugby at its best, within sight and sound of Nabiac Showground’s horse and steer camp-drafting championship, the Wallamba Bulls prevailed, 24-22, a cliff-hanger decided by fullback Steven Curnow’s second goal in a fickle cross-wind.
Even at the death, the Dolphins might have drawn the game only for the attempted conversion of halfback Tom Harris’ scavenging try by creative play-maker, Matt Nuku, to swing wide of the posts.
Both teams began with disadvantages, the Bulls’ ranks depleted by serious injury, the Dolphins likewise down on numbers from last year’s squad and preparing without a coach since his untimely departure six weeks ago, a responsibility cast upon the team’s leadership, flanker Thomas Homer and five-eighth Nuku.
The Dolphins lost lock Lachlan Daczko in the second minute to a yellow card offence followed in the 34 th minute by a red card against powerful utility forward, Troy Haines, for an alleged head butt, a painful penalty in his 100 th appearance for the club.
The 14-man Dolphins defended resolutely, their 5-0 half-time lead warranted, strong centre Tom Holman’s tackle turning over possession for Nuku’s superb pass to send winger Sean Hassett in for his first try since leaving the game four years ago.
The Bulls had slight lineout advantage from the Hessing brothers, Rhys and Daniel, and won two crucial strikes against the head through Tim Horn’s scrum, otherwise the forward battle unsparingly grim, the Bulls’ tight-head, Tom Berry, a significant new acquisition.
But as possession and the penalty count (12-7) mounted, the Bulls ran in four tries in half an hour, levelling the scores at 12-all and 17-all and leading three times, on the last occasion through prop Bell’s try, wading through defenders as the wearying Dolphins fell off tackles.
Mid North Coast Axeman representative centre, James Handford, had an engrossing midfield struggle with talented Mark Hagarty, watched by M.N.C. coach, Angus Anderson, but none was more impressive than Nuku, as inspirational in attack as tireless working around-the- field worker, Homer.
Later, Axemen’s coach Anderson remarked: “It was a terrific arm wrestle with some great flair. I thought the Wallamba forward, Saul Clough, did incredibly well, quite dynamic every time he touched the ball, the best player on the park.”
Successful coach, Lee Sullivan, said: “I thought the comment that the game deserved a draw was correct. There was some really exciting play. It was great.”
Wallamba women’s team remained unbeaten in receiving a forfeit from the injury-struck Dolphinettes, a pick-up game seeing Kristy Schumacher and Nicole Cooke play well for the Bullets and Danielle Lewis and Stephanie Griffis excel for the Dolphinettes. Gloucester women defeated Old Bar, 12-5.
WALLAMBA 24 (S Clough C Tout D Hessing T Berry tries; S Curnow 2 goals) beat FORSTER-TUNCURRY 22 (S Hassett L Brady M Nuku T Harris tries; Nuku goal). GLOUCESTER 38 beat Old Bar 7. MANNING RIVER bye.
Women’s Sevens: WALLAMBA beat FORSTER-TUNCURRY by forfeit. GLOUCESTER 12 beat Old Bar 5.
Next Saturday’s sixth round draw is: Forster v Old Bar at Tuncurry; Gloucester v Manning River at Gloucester; Wallamba bye.