Macleay Valley defeats Taree City in Group Three Rugby League preliminary final

Fullback Dean Mills failed to see the game out because of injury when Taree City went down to Macleay Valley in the Group Three Rugby League preliminary final.

Fullback Dean Mills failed to see the game out because of injury when Taree City went down to Macleay Valley in the Group Three Rugby League preliminary final.

TAREE City coach Gary Bridge confirmed he won’t be with the Bulls in the 2018 Group Three Rugby League season after his side was bundled out of the competition when beaten 28-18 in the preliminary final by Macleay Valley at at windswept Verge Street Oval at Kempsey.

It was a mighty performance from the Bulls. They lost prop Josh Northam before the game with a wrist injury and then fullback Dean Mills (leg) and winger Nayden Moriarty (hamstring) were sidelined during the encounter. Had Taree somehow managed to make next Sunday’s grand final against Port City, both would have been in serious doubt. At fulltime had four players on the field still eligible for under 18s.

Bridge said he couldn’t have been happier with the effort his side put in against the Mustangs and indeed, all years. He’s coached the team for the past two years, but won’t be adding a third in 2018.

“We did well to make it as far as we did,’’ Bridge said.

“We led at halftime but Macleay fought back really well. But it was a great effort from our guys. We’ve had a great season and I’ve enjoyed it and we’ve brought a lot of young blokes through.

“It’s looking good for the club in the next two or three years if they stay with us.’’

Bridge said he was going to stand down at the end of last season only to perform a Nadia Comăneci-like backflip. However, this decision is final, he insisted.

“Work’s taking a lot of time now and that comes first,’’ he said, before revealing the club is already in negotiations with a potential mentor for next year.

“I want to stay involved, but I just don’t have the time for coaching,’’ he added.

The Mustangs will now play unbeaten Port City next Sunday in the grand final at Port Regional Stadium. As far as a contest is concerned, that’s a better prospect than a Taree-Port clash.

"With all the injuries we’d have been lucky to field a side,’’ Bridge noted.

Macleay had the wind behind them in the first half, but trooped off down by six at the break. However, the home side dominated the second section, although it wasn’t until centre Stephen Blair – the best player on the field – blocked a kick from Todd Bridge, picked up the rebound and sprinted 60 metres to score that the Mustangs put a seal on the victory. Blair was in devastating touch for Macleay and along with bullocking second rower Villiame Tobesowa, was their best.

Interchange forward Thomas Berry carted the ball forward with plenty of enthusiasm for the Bulls and he was as good as any forward on the ground while hooker Mick Henry did his best to find a chink in the Macleay defence. Todd Bridge was strong in the first half but the Bulls didn’t have enough ball in the second for him to be effective. Winger Moriarty did well to score two first half tries.

Taree scored first after Moriarty received a favourable bounce from a Bridge kick but a Phil Thaidy try and a conversion by Blair pushed the Mustangs to a two point advantage. That became 12 from a converted try but Taree hit back via a second try to Moriarty, again from a Bridge kick. Then a long pass from Henry found centre Shannon Mullay in space and he worked his way over. Neither try was converted and it was locked at a dozen each. With 10 remaining Henry held up a pass for Lachlan Pope, who played under 18s earlier in the day and the tall back rower was over for Bridge to add the extras and it was 18-12 at oranges.

However the Mustangs were back in control within 20 minutes following the resumption and from there it looked a matter of how far, with Taree’s defence just holding on against some rampaging attack before Blair sealed the result.

Minor premiers Port City bowed out in reserve grade when beaten 32-24 by Port Macquarie while Wauchope outclassed Taree City in under 18s, winning 32-16.

It took two lots of extra time in the women’s league tag before Port City limped across the line 22-16 against Forster-Tuncurry.