MANNING River Ratz’ bid for their first Lower Mid North Coast rugby union premiership advanced one stage further when they retained the Charlie Crook Shield at Taree Rugby Park.
The recently enhanced Ratz swept to a 28-0 lead with four converted tries in the opening 22 minutes against Old Bar before the Clams stirred into spirited retaliatory action with two long-distance tries to finish the bravest of losers, 14-40.
New faces in their back line have invigorated the Ratz, centres Bruwyn Tisdell and Toby De Stefano providing a polish missing previously and bringing a sense of reassurance and slickness, as well as a new optimism into Jake Maurirere’s resurrected coaching life.
For the Clams, the long, slow rebuilding process continues since their premiership successes of the inspired Richard Crook-Darren Drury period following the Mid North Coast Zone’s partition in 2007 after which Old Bar went into abeyance through the crushing winter of 2013.
Throughout victory and calamity over 40 years, Richard Crook has remained an unyielding figurehead of the rugby code in the Manning Valley, as a player in turn with Taree and then Old Bar after which he served as a prominent official for both clubs.
Tragically, Richard lost his son some years ago, and it was in his honour that he donated the Charlie Crook Shield for competition between the two clubs, the Clams winning the trophy from 2009 until 2012 after which the Ratz won it in subsequent seasons, for the fifth occasion last weekend.
The heavyweight pack of the Ratz laid the foundations for Saturday’s success with Mitch Carter directing operations skilfully inside his new midfield combination of De Stefano and Tisdell behind the bruising runs of No 8 James Howard, demolishing tacklers for three tries. He is one of the season’s discoveries.
The Clams’ props, Aaron Swan and Brad Lewis, countered the Ratz’ scrummaging strength; flanker Phil Koch and pivot Brendon Roberts continued outstanding seasons; five-eighth Percy King is a major find; and teenage winger Matt Tout took some big hits and scorched 60 metres for a fine try.
Regrettably, the front-running Wallamba Bulls received a forfeit from the injury-struck Gloucester Cockies, and their pursuers, the Forster Tuncurry Dolphins, had an unwelcome bye.
Fortunately for the Clams, their women’s seven-a-side team has ended thoughts of the Kennards Hire competition being a two-team race between leaders Wallamba and second-placed Gloucester, their game against the Ratz providing a four tries to two and 26-12 victory.
The clash possessed sufficient pace and enterprise to suggest the Clams would trouble any team in September’s play-offs with Annie Taylor, Claire Ruber, Rosea Lawton and Chloe Holdom enjoying fine games and Emma Williams shining for the Ratz.
Wallamba women appear to have the minor premiership at their mercy, leading to a major semi-final at home at Aub Ferris Field at Nabiac, after their 15-12 defeat of the Gloucester Cockies.
Women’s Sevens: Old Bar 26 (C Ruber 2 C Holdom D Rogers tries; Ruber 2 goals K Ambrosoli goal)) beat Manning Ratz 12 (E Williams J Maher tries; D Rogers-Wihangi goal); Wallamba 15 beat Gloucester 12.
Manning Ratz 40 (J Howard 3 tries M Noonan D Rees B Tisdell tries; Tisdell 5 goals) beat Old Bar 14 (M Tout P King tries; B Lewis goal B Petrisic goals); Wallamba received forfeit from Gloucester; Forster Tuncurry bye.