The reappearance of the Forster Tuncurry Dolphins’ 200-game veterans, Ben Manning and Tom Harris, drew an involuntary quiet cheer at the rugby union club’s headquarters at Peter Barclay Field last week.
It is only late summer, but winter’s rugby in the Great Lakes would not be complete without the former Mid North Coast Axemen representatives, both integral members of the Dolphins’ six premiership teams between 2008 and 2016, all under the supervision of coach Ron McCarthy.
At this time of year, the hard yards are doubly gruelling due to the whip hand of club trainer, John Hassett, but as big prop forward Manning observed philosophically: “It’s been better than I anticipated. I just thought I was dying.”
Manning and Harris are the sort of players who become the foundations of a club, of any football variety, long-serving, dependable and brave players who rarely complain, and then only with justification.
Instead of a fire place in the clubhouse, the Dolphins have old-gold pillars. When Ben’s wife, Renee, gave birth to their son, Zeke, three months ago, the suspicion (and concern) was that domestic bliss would take over Manning’s social life, baby bootees replacing rugby boots.
But Ben is back to hold up the tight-head corner of the Dolphins’ scrum, with another strong man in Gavin Maberly-Smith at loose-head. Whether record-breaking goal-kicking loose-head, Lee Crozier (187 games) lashes on boots remains to be seen, but he is nearing his double century appearance.
Manning has made 212 appearances for the Dolphins to Harris’ 207 games. Undoubtedly, Harris would have accumulated more but for a rugby league season with the Hallidays Point Mako Sharks, an ill-fated experience with the club going to the wall after one year.
Tom was the most electrifying centre in the Dolphins’ history only for a water skiing disaster to sideline him for much of 2016, forcing him to become a halfback-cum-breakaway, a role which he fulfilled so well last season he won the club’s best and fairest player award for the second time.
Just who occupies the middle of the Dolphins’ scrum is one of coach McCarthy’s dilemmas still to be settled.
Last year’s strong-tackling hooker, Scott Walmsley, has yet to re-emerge, likewise the club’s essential prop forward, Colin Harris.
The first round of the Kennards Hire premiership kicks off on April 13 when the Dolphins travel to Gloucester to play the Cockies, always one of the more physically demanding clashes and a journey providing the most enjoyable of scenic vistas.
The club’s only major concern is for the Forster Tuncurry women’s team. This year’s competition will be based on 10-a-side rugby and the Dolphinettes have a strong nucleus, but require more players.
Training is on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at Barclay Field from 6pm.