Into the big dance

THE knockers who doubted the ability of a team from Northern NSW to tackle the big boys in the AAMI Under 18s Country Championships were again proven wrong on the weekend when the Oxley Pioneers raced their way into the final.

Impressively overcoming the Central Hunter Power 36-24 at Singleton, the Pioneers' boys who have gathered from Groups 2, 3 and 4 will now to get to play the final on a massive stage as the match will be the curtain raiser to the City v Country clash at Wollongong's WIN Stadium.

Despite taking an early lead on Saturday through Dunghutti centre Ray Marshall, there were doubts rising within the camp when prop Thomas Brown went down with an ankle injury which left the Pioneers bench to just three players for the rest of the game.

In hindsight the doubts should never have come forth because at no stage of the contest did the Pioneers look like being in trouble.

Half Jake Hawkins kicked his second 40-20 in the 15th minute to see Orara Valley's Jason McGrady Jr cross the line from a well rehearsed scrum play.

Five minutes later the boys were leading 16-0 and were well on their way to victory after Port Macquarie forward Ben Read burst through the middle of the ruck and held up a great pass for Matt Nean to score.

Nean scored his second try just before half time and converted to leave the score 22-6.

In the second half, errors from both teams when in scoring positions was the order of the day but the first try after the break was all important and it was the Oxley combination who practically booked their ticket for Wollongong when put Macksville's Jesse McEwan through a hole who offloaded to fellow winger Kenny Allison to score.

With 10 minutes remaining the Central Hunter squad had reduced the margin to only eight points to cause some concern but Mitch Fowler from Port City took advantage of a Power mistake from the kick off and powered over the line to score and truly wrap the game up. In the final minute Jay Chatfield strolled over for the Pioneers to start the celebrations.

"It's a good effort by the boys and we've done it the hard way when you consider we've beaten Illawarra, Newcastle and now Central Coast," Oxley coach Peter Barrett said.

"We didn't play to our best but we did enough to win."

When they play in Wollongong on Friday night, the young locals will face the Western Rams who recorded a miraculous victory in their semi-final.

Facing the Bidgee Bulls, the Rams scored twice in the last four minutes to record a nail-biting 26-22 win.

"They're a big side, they've got some big boys in the forwards," Barrett said of their upcoming opponents.

"They're a good side obviously and over the two day carnival a couple of weeks ago, we were the two most impressive sides there on for and against."

Playing in the state final with a chance to continue the success of the North Coast team that won last year's title is one that the young men can't wait for.

"They're really looking forward to it as there should be a good crowd there," the coach added.

"If we play to our potential, I reckon our backline might be a little bit too quick for them."

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