Thunder rolls across Bellingen Park
THREE tries to speedy centre Pte Keith Eshman paved the way for Australian Army Thunder's 34-16 win over Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo in the annual Sgt Matthew Locke MG memorial match.
Eshman crossed twice in the opening quarter, once in the second and if team handling had been better he might have easily had four or five tries against his name.
The Magpies were always playing catch-up after a nervous start.
“Calling it slow was a compliment as we were keyed up and made early mistakes,” Bello captain-coach Ryan O'Connor said.
“When we found our rhythm and started with quick play the balls and plenty of talk on the field there was a big difference.
“Considering this team hasn't played together it was a fairly tidy effort, especially in the third quarter when we made the comeback.”
Down 14-0 after the first quarter and 22-4 by half-time, the Magpies were in danger of being lapped.
But they then put together an almost mistake-free 20 minutes to register three tries and catch the visitors off guard, forcing the Army to pull out all stops for the definitive final surge to victory.
“When we controlled the rucks, got through our tackles and slowed them down we looked very good,” O'Connor said.
“Trouble was we didn't do it early enough or consistently well enough.
“The fightback showed there's plenty of ticker in the side, which as a coach is a very good sign.
“We have made 10 new signings this year and half of them are still to take the field so we still have a bit of time to go before the side can get together fully and gel.”
Army skipper Sgt Nick Matthews played a fine match in the front row, scored what became the winning try against his old club and stunned supporters by revealing it was only his third appearance in three years – all in the ‘Grub' Locke games.
“I just retired again for the third or fourth time,” he said.
“Work means I don't have so much spare time for footy these days but it's hard not to get revved up every year for this special day.”
With the full squad split for the Inter-Services Series, Matthews said the combination had only gathered two days prior to the match.
“They are playing footy but not always together,” he said.
“That's probably the reason we relaxed a bit at the wrong moment but it was all good in the end.
“In that last quarter we strung it together really well.”
Army now lead the annual challenge two games to one.