A Matter Of What Could Have Been At Country Week

By Ron Wood

Far North Coast has proven to be the nemesis of the Illawarriors at the NSW Country Championships held in Tamworth. After completing a stirring come from behind win in the Caldwell Cup Semi Final to eliminate Illawarra from the prestigious tournament, their Colts squad has achieved much the same in a nail biting final round robin match in the Colts competition.

The Illawarriors Colts started the last day of the tournament with a strong 14 – 0 win over New England. With big performances from Cooper Hanson, Zintori Makene, and Blake Gurney the win set up a great opportunity for the Illawarriors to make the final of the Rowlands Colt Cup.

The final round robin match was against Far North Coast. In an absorbing contest, Far North Coast ended the Illawarriors Colts hopes of a finals berth. In a match in which Illawarra dominated field position for 90% of the match the Northerners scored moments before the siren to win the match 5 – 3 which saw the Illawarriors miss a place in the final.

On three occasions in the first half of the match the Illawarriors came within cm’s of scoring tries only to be denied by some outstanding scrambling defense from their opponents. Fullback Cooper Hanson led the way for Illawarra attacking in spectacular fashion from the back but the tries just did not come.

Like-wise in the second term with front rower Bailey Warren leading the charge the tries just wouldn’t materialize despite ongoing field position and strong attacking play across the field. The Illawarriors were held up over the line once and missed another try through poor handling before the drama of the last few minutes of play saw the match slip from their grip.

Fly Half Zintori Makene kicked a penalty goal for Illawarra with less than two minutes on the clock for a 3 – 0 lead. Unfortunately from the restart center Blake Curls spilled the ball when hit in a strong tackle. The ball fell directly to the Far North Coast blind side Flanker who raced the thirty meters to the line to score. With the try unconverted the North Coast boys had registered their only win of the tournament with the 5 – 3 result.

Painfully Hunter, who the Illawarriors had beaten 21 – 7 in the round matches went on to win the Final against Central Coast.      

The performance of both squads at the tournament was sound and could easily have amounted to more but such was not to be. Both squads included many players who had not had any experience at this level and the experience gained over this weekend will only be of benefit in the years ahead for all concerned both on and off the field.