ROOKIE centre Tim Bridge raced in for four tries as Wingham Tigers opened the Group Three Rugby League season in style with a convincing 42-22 win over Port Macquarie in the match played at Wingham.
The win was Wingham's first over the Sharks since 1994 - although from 1995 to 2012 Port played in the Group Two competition. Last season Port won both encounters.
Wingham continued on from their impressive pre-season and completely outplayed a Port side that seemed to lack both intensity and cohesion. In fact the final scoreline flattered the Sharks. Wingham was clearly the better side on the day.
The Tigers led 16-4 at halftime. Bridge scored the opening two tries of the encounter and they were almost identical. Wingham worked play into Port territory and shifted the ball to the left, giving the quick stepping centre room and he made the defence pay on both occasions. It was a real family affair, with his elder brother, Matt, converting his second try to make the score 10-0.
Bridge reaped the rewards of the hard work done by the forwards, led by second rower Michael Richards, who was named player of the match. Luke Steel at halfback was another Tiger to shine. He controlled the play around the ruck and led his side with authority. For good measure he also landed five goals. Indeed, Steel's orchestration of Wingham's play was exactly what the Sharks lacked. For the most part the Sharks were rudderless.
Port needed quick points after the break to get back into the contest. But Wingham had other ideas and increased their lead to 26-4 via tries to winger Blake Sky and hooker Adam Kerr. Midway through the second half interchange forward Michael Bright gave Port supporters something to cheer about when he crashed over for fullback Ethan McKenna to convert, reducing the margin to 26-10. But normal transmission was resumed soon after when Bridge fielded a kick, again found some space and raced 70 metres to cross in a fine individual effort.
It all became a bit academic from there.
The game also marked Matt Bartlett's return to Group Three for the Tigers after a stint in the NRL and then with Lakes United in Newcastle.
He was in some doubt before the game as he strained a leg muscle and his thigh was heavily strapped.
Bartlett produced a solid rather than spectacular game, but will no doubt be an asset to the Tigers as the season wears on.