TAREE City Bulls will have to defy recent history if the club is to feature in the Group Three Rugby League grand final on Sunday week.
The Bulls won through to Sunday’s preliminary final against Port City at Port Macquarie with a well earned 26-12 win over Forster-Tuncurry at a wind and rain swept Harry Elliott Oval at Tuncurry. This turned around six weeks of poor form that saw the Bulls slip from first to fourth on the competition ladder.
However, Taree now faces a side the club hasn’t beaten in first grade since the 2007 grand final.
As was the case in the minor semi, the Bulls will go into the game much-the-underdog.
There was plenty to like about Taree’s effort against the Hawks. They trailed 12-10 at the break and kept the home side scoreless in the second section.
The Bulls’ defence, which has been slipshod towards the end of the competition-proper was watertight in the second section, although there were some glaring errors down the short side in the first half.
The return of halfback Mick Henry can’t be understated. Henry gave Taree direction in attack. He picked the time when to take on the defence while his kicking game in the swirling conditions kept Forster guessing.
Taree also needed a captain’s knock from Daniel Dumas and the second rower responded with interest in the second half. Dumas spent some time on the sideline during the first half with a leg injury, but he showed no ill-effects in the second half and he continually took the ball up to the Forster defence. He rallied his side and there were plenty of willing workers to support him. Prop Rumone Jackson, playing off the bench, had his best game of the season. Jackson dented the Forster defence just about every time he took the ball up, which was often. He was given great support by young prop Josh Northam, who was also strong.
Centres Ben Northam and Clint Walker were both dangerous in attack, Walker showing that he can worry any defence with his pace and step. Northam scored a determined try and laid on another. Walker worked in superbly with fullback Trae Clarke, who was constantly in the front line looking for work. Despite the wet and windy conditions Walker, five-eighth Daniel Sater and Clarke provided plenty of razzle dazzle with one passing rush in the first half starting deep in Taree’s territory and ending just before the Forster tryline. The Bulls also bombed two tries when the final pass went to ground.
The Hawks had their excuses. Injuries have hampered their campaign all season and the curse continued in the minor semi. Forster went into the game promising an arsenal of power from the bench. But that didn’t eventuate. Prop Cory Shields wasn’t sighted while centre Matt Hill didn’t play. Sam McCartney was used as a replacement when halfback Byram Stewart suffered what appeared to be a broken thumb midway through the first half. But McCartney couldn’t make an impact and sadly, he limped off in the second half after aggravating a hamstring injury that has plagued him all winter.
The Hawks also paid the price for ill-discpline. Midway through the second half referee Wayne Archer penalised hooker Tom Freeman - who was Forster’s best on the day. Freeman argued the decision and Archer sent him to the sin bin. Walker kicked a penalty goal at that gave Taree a 20-12 cushion that was always going to be enough.
The Hawks gave away penalities twice when they were in possession. In all, it was a sorry end to the season for Forster, with losses in under 18s, reserve grade and first grade.