THE battalion in blue’s explosion of cheering and chairing of coach Lee Sullivan confirmed the crowning of the Wallamba Bulls as new champions of the Lower Mid-Coast rugby union competition at Peter Barclay Field, Tuncurry.
Defiant and brave to the end, Tom Homer’s Forster-Tuncurry Dolphins could not extend their four-winter sequence of premierships with the Bulls lowering their green and gold colours and running out the narrowest but most worthy winners, two tries all and 15-14.
The old political expression “It’s Time” appeared relevant as the Bulls shaded the Dolphins in the lineout and scrum and with fewer handling errors, two Dolphins products, Rhys and Daniel Hessing, inspiring the club’s long-held vow to celebrate their 10th anniversary as “the Year of the Bulls”.
Though the Dolphins ran with the biting sou-westerly wind and led 14-5 with two converted tries in the opening 23 minutes, the advantage was not enough, and they failed to resist the Bulls pack’s command of possession with powerful midfielder Chris Tout at last silencing his critics.
The Bulls began and ended the grand final impressively, attacking from the outset, launching raids to the right wing and back to the left for Lee McDonald to cross in the left wing corner in only the fourth minute.
But Dolphins five-eighth Matt Nuku’s influence and weaving, dummying run to elude the Bulls’ defence for a 7-5 lead in the ninth minute, followed soon after by their blind-side attack through half Liam Brady and centre Mark Hagarty for fullback Jonathon Paff’s try in the right wing corner led to false impressions.
When Nuku angled his conversion attempt remarkably across the wind to raise the flags from Paff’s try, Dolphins’ expectations soared.
But coach Sullivan had two aces up his sleeve, recalling smart inside back, James Handford, after long weeks of recovery from a torn hamstring muscle, and able to promote from the bench, hefty loose-head, Christiaan Pheiffer, in the 16th minute.
A former Northern Suburbs (Sydney) front rower, Pheiffer, has attracted the attention of Mid North Coast Zone representative coach, Angus Anderson, with his technical skills and strength. He has certainly provided rivals with enormous demands in his first season with the Bulls.
The Dolphins’ inability to win their own lineout regularly with Rhys Hessing a most capable jumper saw Homer claim some valuable possession, but prop Paul De Szell’s 64th minute try from a series of forward charges, coupled with Tout’s prodigious use of the wind and his two second-half goals provided the winning advantage.
It said much for the Dolphins’ spirit that they battled fiercely to regain the lead, but the 11th minute loss of loose-head Gavin Maberley-Smith, limping off with a knee injury, sustained from the team’s opposed final training run on Thursday before the game, was a significant setback.
Wallamba were deserving winners, but post-match celebrations away from Nabiac in the Dolphins’ clubhouse in the rugby tradition, would have made the occasion the more enjoyable.