THE Central North finals make-up finally has some clarity about it after Gunnedah produced a stirring effort to lock in a finals spot and effectively end Moree’s plans in front of big home crowd on Saturday.
It was something of a red letter day for the Red Devils as they marched towards their first finals appearance since 2004 and completed a rare double against the Bulls with a 30-12 win.
Its been a long time between drinks for the Gunnedah faithful waiting to beat the Bulls twice in a season.
It had been 10 years since they’d tasted success in Moree.
The result leaves Inverell, Walcha, the Red Devils and Pirates as the top four, bar Pirates falling in a heap, which doesn’t look likely.
Now all that remains to be sorted is their exact finishing positions.
The win has put the Red Devils in a prime position to host the minor semi-final, although they have a tough couple of games to come with Pirates and Inverell their next two opponents.
But they’ll head into those matches with confidence, and backing their defence after another excellent effort on Saturday.
Like it was at Moree, the Red Devils’ defence was the key to their win.
As expected with their season on the line, the Bulls came out firing.
They had all the possession and the territory in the opening minutes and broke through the Red Devils’ defence a couple of times, but each time the Red Devils managed to scramble back or the play broke down.
Then, with their first chance with the ball, the Red Devils spread it wide and after a couple of runners had punched through, breakaway Joel McKenty busted through to give the home side first points.
They quickly had to switch back into defensive mode though, messing up the kick-off and eventually conceding a penalty, but the Bulls’ attempt at goal was unsuccessful.
From the restart a chip and chase from Bulls skipper Ben Colley got the Bulls back into good territory and created an overlap but Red Devils five-eighth Pete Henderson managed to get back and snaffle the intercept.
The Bulls missed another penalty and then found themselves down 8-nil when a breakout from inside their half from the Red Devils resulted in a penalty, which Matt Jones slotted.
It was then 13-nil with about 10 to go after Jamie Mitchell finished off an attack ignited by coach Paul Brady.
Rather than clearing to the sideline, Brady decided to take on the defence and after getting outside Bulls winger Joe Henderson, kicked ahead into open space. Dave Heyman led the chase and got the ball back before popping it off to Mitchell.
It summed up the Red Devils’ determination, which equally resonated in defence.
“Today we defended for probably the first eight minutes straight,” Brady said.
“It was important that we rode that wave of aggression out.”
Which they did, thanks to some big plays.
“There was some desperate stuff,” Brady said.
He said McKenty’s try was a massive mental boost, and likewise would have mentally hurt the Bulls, as would have Mitchell’s try.
“The other important thing was we didn’t try and play defensively,” Brady said.
They played an attacking game, but they needed to.
“I think against a side like Moree with their attacking flair, you can’t afford to play defensively,” Brady said.
It was really only scraps they had to play with though.
The second half they enjoyed a bit more possession, but were probably a bit sloppy at times, Brady said, turning the ball over when they were half-way through the line.
The Bulls finally put some points on the board after an incisive run from fullback Heath Riggs set up Simon Dunlop in space, but they had a mountain to climb by then, with Matt Hannay scoring in the first couple of minutes of the second half to push the Red Devils’ lead out to 20-nil.
Not long after, Manaia Rehu charged through and spectacularly juggled the ball behind his back before scoring and effectively ending any hopes the Bulls had of fighting back.
It’s a game they’ll rue missed opportunities from.
“I think we created a fair few opportunities but at that last pass it broke down,” Bulls coach Jamie Hardman said.
“We had all the ball and all of the opportunities and all of a sudden they came away with points.”
If Moree had taken those chances it could have been different.
“The difference was they finished and we didn’t,” Hardman said.
Matt Wannan, Dunlop and Damien Kelly were good for them, while McKenty was awesome for the Red Devils.
Mitchell and centre partner Dylan Beer also had strong games.
Moree’s Simon Dunlop tries to offload as he’s hit hard by Gunnedah’s Sam Michelsen and a Red Devils team-mate. Photo: Barry Smith 040812BSF05
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.