In the wake of the Australian Wallabies’ recent heavy losses to the All Blacks, it is reassuring to know from the evidence of the Wallamba Bulls’ 38-36 win over the Forster Tuncurry Dolphins at Tuncurry on Saturday that rugby union’s club-land remains a splendid battle ground.
Rugby does not come much better than this….. in a game of six tries to four to the Bulls, the Dolphins surged to a 19-5 lead into the breeze after 34 minutes, the Bulls fighting back to lead 24-22 after 52 minutes, then both teams exchanging tries until a minute from the end.
At Richard Crook Field, Old Bar, in the 20 th round of this extended Winter into Spring competition, the Old Bar Clams sprang yet another surprise, gaining their second win of the Kennards Hire premiership, defeating the fourth-placed Gloucester Cockies at home in a thriller, winning four tries-a-side and 28-24.
Now, the four semi-finalists move to Nabiac and Aub Ferris Field on Saturday for the premiership play-offs, the Bulls meeting the Dolphins in the major semi-final with the third-placed Manning River Ratz playing the Cockies in the sudden-death minor semi-final.
In the women’s seven-a-side play-offs, the minor premiers, Wallamba, meet their bitter rivals, the second-placed Gloucester, in the major semi-final with Old Bar playing Manning River in the minor semi-final.
It was high-powered, body-battering, sweeping rugby of high quality at Peter Barclay Field, a credit to the clubs and their coaches, Lee Sullivan and Ron McCarthy.
Following the game the dressing rooms resembled a post-match grand final scene, one jubilant, the other stricken, the Dolphins’ centre Mark Hagarty, half Blake Newcombe and utility Nathan Johnson all nursing potential season-closing injuries.
It began encouragingly for the Dolphins, skipper Matt Nuku clipping over two penalty goals for the early lead after which Bulls’ halfback and captain, Andy Paynter, took a quick tap to send hefty No 8 Tom Berry barrelling over for the first try.
Dolphins backrower Troy Haines responded in typical fashion, smashing through for an 11-5 lead, forward clash intensifying, hooker Curtis McAnally leading a formidably heavy Bulls pack, premiership prop Aaron Gordon inter-changing with front-rowers Paul DeSzell and Christiaan Pheiffer.
However well the Dolphins scrummaged and pillaged with Tom Harris, Haines and Col Harris working tirelessly, and Harris and Sean Hassett claiming lineout possession, the power of the Bulls’ pack became a game-determining factor.
With Nuku’s four penalty goals, centre Tom Holman impressing in midfield and half Blake Newcombe’s sharp try swinging the game the Dolphins’ way, it required Paynter’s quick-witted try to restrict the Dolphins’ lead to 22-12 at half-time.
Attacking the Dolphins out wide, attempting to run them ragged, fullback Chris Tout was in his element, his speed and swerve earning three tries and taking the Bulls to a 38-29 lead, a lead they never surrendered despite the Dolphins’ brave fightback.
The afternoon began In ideal conditions with a Golden Oldies game which saw former St. George fullback, John Hessing, run in two tries, a preview to daughter Shannon and Kaley Barnett shining in the Wallamba women’s 36-0 defeat of the Dolphinettes with Hessing’s sons, Rhys and Daniel, prominent in the men’s game.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.