Mid North Coast's struggles at Country championships

Wallamba second rower Saul Clough impressed with his powerhouse performance against Forster-Tuncurry. Photo Zac Lyon.
Wallamba second rower Saul Clough impressed with his powerhouse performance against Forster-Tuncurry. Photo Zac Lyon.

The last act of his term of office by Barry Ruddy, retiring supremo of the Country Rugby Union, was to nominate and then secure his western NSW home town of Warren as host for this year’s State annual championships.

The well-meant demand was “great for Warren, but the players hated it,” Mid North Coast Zone coach, Angus Anderson, said this week.

The small army of players from all over country regions of NSW was accommodated in a “Tent City”, obviously lacking the usual motel facilities of a comfortable bed, hot and cold running water, and, above all, necessities such as electrical power points for players’ mobile phones and laptop computers.

“There was nowhere suitable to warm up for our game. We prepared in a forest,” Anderson related.

So far-distant was Warren that some zones cried off due to the expense involved and others failed to attract their usual quota of players, leading to a decision next winter to field an “Inland Bushrangers XV”, a hybrid combination of players from different zones, for the second-tier Richardson Shield competition.

Such was the zones’ response to Warren as host that NSW Country has resolved to change the format and allow two townships in a zone with suitable playing fields and superior facilities – such as Port Macquarie possessed for last year’s championships and perhaps Forster-Tuncurry in future seasons – to host successive carnivals, rather than every zone be automatically granted a carnival.

The MNC Axemen’s impressive coach, Anderson, attended last weekend’s Lower MNC game between the Wallamba Bulls and Forster Tuncurry Dolphins, won 24-22 by the Bulls at Nabiac, and was delighted by the game’s standard, lamenting that more players from the region did not seek to play for the Axemen in the zone’s ill-fated first campaign in the Caldwell Cup.

The venture was unsuccessful with the Axemen playing the two most powerful zones in the Caldwell Cup, Illawarra and Newcastle, and going down by hefty margins, relegating them back to the Richardson Shield.

It may have been grave luck of the draw, but there must be a better way for the Richardson Shield-winners to venture into the deep water of the Caldwell Cup rather than immediately face both of Country’s heavyweight zones. Wallamba centre, James Handford, who represented in this year’s Country championships, and flanker Rhys Hessing, who would have played but for a broken forearm, and the Dolphins’ five-eighth, Matt Nuku, impressed Anderson last Saturday, but the player who won his vote as “player of the match” was Wallamba’s rangy backrower, Saul Clough. A fine player for several seasons, often unrecognised, his movements to and from Nabiac dictated by employment commitments, Clough played “incredibly well”, according to Anderson.