SINCE the Forster Tuncurry club's unbeaten winter of 2019, the Manning River Ratz have held the whip hand in their rugby union engagements, extending the practice on Saturday at the Dolphins' Tuncurry home ground of Peter Barclay Field.
In sunny conditions, mercifully without the intervention of rain, a well-balanced "Ratties" XV, strong up front with their forward "rock", tight-head Bronson Rangi. duelling splendidly against Mid North Coast loose-head rival, Aaron Booby, ran in three tries to two to claim an engrossing struggle, 24-14.
The Dolphins fielded a team of whatever arrived at the door, recruiting two spectators from the ranks of the Wallamba Bulls in splendid Chris and Daniel Tout, a situation which cannot continue indefinitely, however welcome the brothers.
It required a 70-metre second half try by the Ratz Michael Bailey to sort the wheat from the chaff, the fullback displaying speed and ability to break a tackle in his thrilling dash, a spectacle which highlighted the Dolphins' plight of neglecting pre-season tackling practice through lack of manpower.
Regrettably, the scheduled women's 10-a-side clash was postponed with Gloucester's playing ranks decimated by an outbreak of COVID-19, an absorbing clash to be played at a later date.
Manning River's club president, Steven Rees, praised the club's backrowers, Nathan Buccholz, and man-of-the-match, No 8 Elliott Lewis, and strong-tackling Craig Watson, and remarked on the splendid spirit of cooperation prevailing among clubs in the Kennards Hire Lower MNC competition.
More disturbingly, where now for the Dolphins? The question hangs in the air: Is this their last winter? New players are becoming rarer each year. Starting with 12 on Saturday before the Tout brothers were shanghaied, it appeared the club was destitute of players.
In the circumstances, the encouraging return of former Hawks rugby league centre, Jarrod little, was pleasing following a knee injury which threatened his football career. Likewise, the halfback combination of Liam Brady and skipper Mark Hagarty enjoyed their finest afternoon together.
One of the few sporting clubs on the east coast with its own clubhouse, a splendid, sand-based playing field, and great club spirit with a club barbecue after training each Thursday evening. What more would young, ambitious players want?
Where were the likes of Sean Hassett, big enough and talented enough to be a Mid North Coast Axeman representative forward; where, too, the tough, versatile Colin Harris? Club captain, flanker Blake Polson, missed the game through injury, always an exciting, game-breaking runner.
But select Harris, Hassett and Polson in the team, with experimental lineout jumper Mark Quillan successful against the Ratz, and then watch the Dolphins fly.
New Dolphins club president, Ben Manning, put team needs before health demands and played in the front row with a badly infected tooth, which requires surgical extraction.
Strong men and true such as hefty lock, Nigel Pereira - with young son Nick as ball-boy - are indispensable at the club.
The Ratz are playing well, but their first-round conquerors, the Wallamba Bulls, are the Dolphins' rivals next Saturday. Interesting challenges lie ahead.
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