WAUCHOPE captain-coach Matt Bird defied a chest infection and a bout of the flu to inspire his side to a hard earned 16-12 win over Wingham in the Group Three Rugby League clash at Wingham.
Bird, a backrower, played the entire 80 minutes of what was a bruising if somewhat error-riddled encounter. The win keeps Wauchope on track for a top four berth but makes Wingham's task that much harder.
"We needed that,'' Bird, who was as good as any forward on the field, smiled at fulltime.
"It was good to see the boys grind a win out. We scored plenty of points in the last few games, but today I was really pleased with our strong defence.''
Halfback Tyrell Scott was among Wauchope's best and Bird described him as a 'great up and coming player.'
"He still has a lot to learn, but he has a lot of talent,'' he said.
"If he starts to get a bit of size he'll be someone to be reckoned with in the next few years.''
Scott's elder brother, Tristan, fed the scrums for the Blues for a number of seasons and was among the best number sevens in the group before moving north.
"We're trying to get it into Tyrell's head that he doesn't have to live in his brother's shadow. He can play his own game,'' Bird added.
"He's starting to do that now and it's really showing.''
Bird played down his own contribution.
"It was a tough one today on a wet track, but you just keep showing up,'' he said.
"But this was a massive win for us today. It was the life and death or our season. I'm super proud of the boys.''
The Blues held out wave after wave of Wingham attacking raids in the last 10 minutes of the game. On four occasions the Tigers made it over the line but were unable to ground the ball. Twice in the matter of minutes Jackson Mullen was held up over the line by Wauchope defenders.
Earlier prop Jake Mullen dived over for a try after a towering bomb was grassed by the Blues, however, referee Cameron Thomas ruled no try, possibly because of obstruction.
The first half was a contrast - the Blues were good, the Tigers woeful.
Wingham started strongly when Mullen was across in the opening minutes for a converted try but from there Wauchope dominated. Led by Scott and halves partner Ethan McKenna, Wauchope ran through some porous defence on the left hand side. Winger Nelson Young scored twice with second rower Jack Mansfield crossing for the other. McKenna added two conversions.
When Wingham had possession, they invariably frittered it away through poor handing or silly options. The fact they were still in the contest at 16-6 was more through good luck than planning.
However, Wingham dominated the second half territorially and came up with a try after Joel Kleindienst popped up a pass for hooker Nick Beacham to crash over from short range. Fletcher Lewis reduced the margin to four with the conversion.
Both sides ended with players in the sin bin at fulltime, with Ben Middleton from Wauchope and Jake Mullen given first use of the showers in separate incidents.
Prop Aaron Groom was against Wingham's best.
Injured captain-coach Mitch Collins was sorely missed. He spoke to his players at length at fulltime and later conceded the Tigers have the job in front them if they are going to feature in the finals.
"We're going to have to do it the hard way,'' Collins agreed.
Collins said Wingham's first half was 'terrible'.
"Too many mistakes - it was the worst half of footy we've played this year,'' he lamented.
"We scored from the first set and looked really good. But from there we gave away a penalties or missed tackles. And when we got the ball we dropped it. You don't win games when you can't hold the ball.''
The reserve grade ended 22-22 draw while Wauchope won the league tag 26-20.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.