The boots of the Wallamba Bulls echoed increasingly loudly from Nabiac on Saturday as the defending champions claimed both games of their double-header against the Gloucester Cockies in the Lower Mid North Coast rugby union minor premiership.
The Bulls’ men’s team defeated a brave but injury-crippled Cockies, 50-7, while their women’s team overcame the competition, leading Cockies in a splendid struggle, three tries to two and 17-12.
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In a formidable pack, Wallamba’s coach Lee Sullivan has found an important dual purpose for his 130-kg South African powerhouse, Christiaan Pheiffer, beginning as a rock-like loose-head at the scrum and then giving him a damaging offensive role as a midfield runner.
There was only one player referee Dale McAuley sought to identity afterwards for his best and fairest player award – Pheiffer.
There was much to admire in Wallamba’s performance. They are developing teamwork and a robustness in their forwards through the likes of Curtis McAnally, Dan Aldrich, Saul Clough and, inevitably the brothers Hessing, Daniel and Rhys, feeding their backs a plentiful supply of ball.
The Bulls’ halfback combination of Andy Paynter and Steven Curnow provided direction and a brisk service, five-eighth Curnow angling over conversions from the side-line and Paynter captaining Wallamba impressively against his old club when a resident of the ranges.
The pity was that Gloucester began without four front-line backs, the club sufficiently short-staffed for club president, Tim Threadgate, a specialist forward, to play in the back line while Mid North Coast director, Stuart Paynter, and theoretically retired club champion, Dennis Wamsley, were included as reserves.
Gloucester have enormous heart. Club stalwart, Michael Wooster, played hooker with strained knee ligaments, even then taking goal attempts, while lock John Flemming started with an ankle injury before limping off.
Yet, they keep finding fine players, in this instance John Cornelius. The five-eighth provided a glimpse of his splendid talent by weaving through Wallamba’s defence on a 40-metre run before flinging himself over the line for the Cockies’ try.
Another to shine was fullback Ryan Hennessy, slight of frame but full of courage and willing to tackle the biggest rival.
Mid North Coast Axemen’s young fullback Ryan Yates captained the Cockies from halfback, not to his advantage for he came under heavy fire, but he continued on stoically.
The women’s “Sevens” was the showpiece of the season, Wallamba running in two tries for a 10-0 lead by half-time only for Gloucester to respond with their own two tries for a 12-10 lead. In a gripping finale, Wallamba snatched victory with a try in the last minute.
Wallamba were well served by the strong-running Lena Donnelly, their try-scorer Hayley Dunk and heavy-tackling Lalirra Simon.
Wallamba’s major challengers, the Forster Tuncurry Dolphins, had their observers watching proceedings at Nabiac, Ivanah Haines and Stephanie Griffis. They would have taken grim tidings home.
In the other Kennards Hire premiership game, the Manning River Ratz remained in the hunt for the title by beating the Old Bar Clams with a bonus point win, 54 to the Clams’ 5, at Richard Crook Field.
In the women’s sevens, Wallamba 17 beat Gloucester 12 and Old Bar 19 beat Manning River 5.