Thunder take revenge
AUSTRALIAN Army Thunder took revenge for last year’s shock loss to Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo by sneaking home 22-10 in Saturday’s Sgt Matthew Locke Memorial Match at Bellingen Park.
Going under in 2009 was the only defeat in the Thunder’s history and the Magpies would almost certainly have repeated the dose on this occasion had not the final pass to Dan Russell after a midfield break made in the last 20 seconds, gone to ground.
But only moments before the visitors squandered their own chance to put the final result beyond doubt when a pass from winger Spr Matt Griffiths to an unmarked five-eighth Pte Mahn Darley was ruled forward.
Those tense moments were among the highlights in a thrilling match marked by its high quality for so early in the season.
Winning skipper Sgt Nick Matthews, a Urunga local and former Bellingen player, said the memory of the late Matt Locke had motivated his troops in the frantic and desperate latter stages.
“There were plenty of heart-in-mouth moments near the end but the spirit of ‘Grub’ (Locke) was with us and we lasted,” he said.
Bellingen coach Josh White paid credit to the Army side but expressed immense pride in his own team’s near miss.
“This is only a trial, I know, and I hate to lose any time,” he said.
Opposing fullbacks and former NRL stars David Peachey (Magpies) and Joven Clarke (Thunder) provided plenty of thrills when they had the football under their command.
But the purists were thrilled just as much by the no-nonsense old-school forward play displayed by Matthews and front row partner, the colourfully named Cpl Shovel-head Wallace, particularly in the opening 20-minute quarter.
Patrolling the centre of the ruck, the pair shut down every attempt by the Magpies to make ground up the centre, forcing the home side to turn their attention to the long way to the try line.
At one stage, Matthews was knocked senseless. “Typically tough, these Bello boys, but it didn’t hurt me ... much,” he laughed.
Despite one Bellingen try the tactic worked a treat, especially when the Army buckled down to the requirements of referee Nathan Grace and began getting their own share of possession.
“Then it was our turn to push the ball wide and get them on the fringes,” Matthews revealed
Sparked by crafty halfback Cpl The Chad Gill, Army launched wave after wave of attacking runners at a formidable Magpie defensive line which was breached only twice.
Playing the last stanza as a 30-minute block suited the visitors and they looked set to get final supremacy and scream ahead, only for Bellingen to lift against the odds and make one last challenge.
The two long range tries scored by rampaging Matt Bush down the left-hand side were as spectacular as any you’d see and the Magpies were still powering away in the dying stages.
AUSTRALIAN ARMY THUNDER 22 (Cpl The Chad Gill, Pte Joven Clarke, Sgt Clancy Fallon, Pte Mahn Darley tries; Gill 2, Darley goals) def BELLINGER VALLEY-DORRIGO MAGPIES 20 (Matt Bush 2, Ian Boutell, Ryan O’Connor tries; Dan Russell 2 goals).
Scrums: Australian Army 11-10.
Penalties: Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo 8-7.
Errors: Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo 9-6.
Man-of-the-match awards: Cpl The Chad Gill (Thunder) and Matt Bush (Magpies).
Best players: Cpl The Chad Gill, Cpl Shovel-head Wallace, Spr Karl Hewett (Australian Army); Anthony Fensom, Dan Russell, Matt Bush (Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo).