IN the end Wauchope were justifiably crowned champions of Group Three Rugby League following a 49-16 demolition of Old Bar in the grand final played at Wauchope.
Wauchope went through the season unbeaten. This is also the first time in Group Three history the Blues have won back-to-back titles.
However, it was a controversial end to the season. Old Bar finished with 11 players on the field after Mick Henry and Tom Alchin were sent off in separate incidents in the second half by referee Zac Schembri. At one stage the Pirates only had 10 players on the field with interchange forward Brendan Clarke also in the sin bin. Henry and lock Greg Harris were also given time in the first half.
The Pirates were caned in the penalty count particularly late in the first half. According to the club count the penalties went Wauchope's way 10-2 in the opening stanza. Play was halted midway through the second half when cans were thrown onto the field and the situation looked set to deteriorate. However, the crowd settled down when police arrived and there were no further disruptions.
Old Bar coach Jason Morrissey didn't hold back with his criticism of Schembri in his post match interview, admitting that at one stage he thought of calling his players off the field.
Still, the Blues were deserved premiers. Their record proved they've been the best side in the competition all year. While the final score was a blowout, Wauchope did fight back from an early 10-0 deficit. By halftime they were in control at 23-10.
There were plenty of heroes for the Blues. Veteran halfback Arron Ison was named player of the match after a masterful display where he dictated most of Wauchope's attack. The forwards, led by prop Adam McMurray and second rower Justin Laurie went about their work in a professional manner while Nick McCabe at five-eighth and fullback Sam Watts were other Blues to star.
The Pirates had plenty of dramas before the game even started concerning the availability of prop Kyle Cochrane. As anticipated, lock Steve Sansom took his place despite having a broken finger. Another, Anthony Morrison returned despite playing limited football this year after twice breaking his arm. Frustration with some of Schmebri's rulings boiled over late in the second half and this led to ill-discipline, compounding Old Bar's problems.
Second rower and captain Josh Pearsall worked hard for the Pirates while co-second rower Tye Blanchette was as good as any forward on the field in the first half. But sin binning and dismissals made what was always going to be a difficult task for the Pirates mission impossible by midway through the second half.
Still, it all started positively for Old Bar. They had a use of the wind and won the opening exchanges. After four minutes Nathan Berry held up a pass for Alchin to crash over. Berry was involved with Old Bar's second try when he put in a short kick that was re-gathered by Aden Avery and he touched down. Berry's goal made it 10-0 after 10 minutes.
However, there was no panic in the Wauchope camp. The Blues worked play into Old Bar territory and quick hands resulted in McCabe crashing over. Watts added the goal then Old Bar put the restart into touch on the full. Ison instigated a move that saw Watts over and the fullback added the goal to level the scores. Henry was sent to the sin bin and while he was in the sheds Ison sent a pass to Laurie to cross and Watts was spot on with the conversion. The Pirates were down to 11 with Greg Harris joining Henry in the bin and a try to Beau White added to Old Bar's problems. Just before the break McCabe slotted over a field goal and the Blues had a match winning 23-10 lead at the break.
The contest was as good as over when Ison sent Laurie over for his second just after the resumption. The tries kept coming regularly as the methodical Blues concentrated on football.
Old Bar had one bright moment when winger Daniel Morris ran onto a well timed pass to score, but the game had been run and won by then.