Ben Manning was a brawny student from the University of New England in Armidale, flexing muscles and nursing a quiet ambition to represent Australia in rugby union, when he played his first game for the newly reborn Forster Tuncurry Dolphins in 2004.
He never won test gold, but he represented the Mid North Coast Axemen at tight-head in the most demanding position on the field and last Saturday he broke into rugby’s big-time in a different fashion, appearing in his 200th game for the Dolphins.
Now 35, “Big Ben” was honoured with captaincy and led out the team against Old Bar at Tuncurry for the club’s 79-0 eclipse of the Clams, once their mortal enemy of the Lower MNC competition.
Never over-dramatic in such matters, Manning was a well-satisfied man after the game, too canny to launch into dreams beyond this season, recalling with pleasure his initial involvement with dual Auckland-Sydney representative flanker and initial club president, Bruce Greensill.
The Dolphins might never have happened save for Greensill, who left New Zealand for Sydney’s dryer climate for the health of his wife, Lorraine.
When Bruce passed away, Stephen Bromhead became president and the driving force in completion of their clubhouse at Peter Barclay Field.
Mark Coble, the Dolphins’ former Penrith Emus first grade hooker, recalled Manning joining the club in 2004, apologising for not being able to train on Tuesday evenings, but declaring he would drive to training from Armidale each Thursday. He continued doing so all winter.
“That’s the dedication you have shown this club and why you have reached this great milestone. You have put in some great efforts over the years,” Coble stated.
“When you run on today with the crowd applauding your great achievement, enjoy it. You deserve all the accolades. Only one thing would top it off… score a try!”
Manning did precisely that, scoring under the posts in the 12th minute, capping his performance with four goals and running out the full 80 minutes, a true local hero.
Now a trimmed-down 125kg forward from 150kgs-plus, married to Renee, Ben is business-manager of EB Games in Forster’s Stockland shopping centre.
He led the Dolphins in the Kennards Hire competition’s sixth round against an injury-ravaged Old Bar, a sporadically entertaining game which saw the Dolphins running the ball in perfect conditions for 13 tries at Barclay Field.
Pacy winger Zac Palmer returned to the Dolphins’ back line with a sizzling four-try performance, the win marred by lock Shaun Jackson dislocating a shoulder and centre Sean Hassett aggravating a hamstring.
The Clams’ Phil Koch and Brendon Roberts played fearlessly and tirelessly throughout.
Forster’s backrower Brad Murray displayed his versatility, linking between forwards and backs, with pivot Matt Nuku standing wide, while Blake Newcombe’s utilitarian value increased with his enterprise and tackling ability at fullback.
In Gloucester, the Manning River Ratz won an important away game against the Cockies, 15-14, to remain in close pursuit of the Wallamba Bulls and Dolphins.
In the women’s sevens tournament, Old Bar overcame Forster, two tries to one and 12-5, with Emma Ralph, Brearna Hoole and Claire Ruber prominent while Jedda Marr, Chloe Coble and Summa Hutchinson excelled for the fast-improving Forster Ladies.
Gloucester notched a bonus point win with four tries in their 20-7 defeat of Manning River Ladies.
Next Saturday’s round seven draw: Wallamba Bulls v Gloucester at Nabiac; Manning River v Old Bar at Taree Rugby Park; Forster Tuncurry, bye.
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