Woolgoolga recruit Mark Pledger fails to find a way through the Coffs Harbour line during Saturday night’s final of the Group 2 Sevens.
Woolgoolga recruit Mark Pledger fails to find a way through the Coffs Harbour line during Saturday night’s final of the Group 2 Sevens. Pic Trevor Veale

Comets claim Sevens crown

ANOTHER tour-de-force performance by Matt Donovan across three matches was the catalyst for Coffs Harbour’s 38-34 Group 2 Sevens title defence against Woolgoolga on Saturday.

The great No.3, known universally as ‘Mr Magic’, had players who weren’t even born when he entered first grade grinding their teeth in frustration as they tried to lay hands upon his elusive frame.

And he did most of it without centre partner Rick McGrady who only made spasmodic ventures into the action after a cut opened above his left eye just a few seconds after he took the field.

Donovan doesn’t have the speed of his youth but his cunning is without peer, not to mention an uncanny instinct for knowing which part of the park he should be on to cause maximum mayhem for the opponents.

“Bloody old marvel,” winning coach Warren Gilkinson said of the tournament’s best player, who had a hand in all but a couple of Coffs Harbour’s tries.

The Comets and Seahorses confronted each other twice on the night and their tight opening match set the blueprint for the final.

Tit-for-tat tries were the order of battle with periods of explosive action leading to scoring by one side, quickly followed by a return crossing at the other end.

Coffs just managed to sneak home in their opener but the real action occurred when an incomprehensible blunder with time keeping at the start of the next match destroyed Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo’s title hopes.

With the game due to kick off at 5.05pm, captain-coach Ryan O’Connor still had his Magpies in the shed receiving last-minute instructions when Orara Valley was ordered to proceed at what was claimed to be three minutes ahead of schedule.

Frantic Group 2 officials tried to delay until the Magpies were on the ground but in a moment of farce, the Axemen were suddenly 6-0 up without a defender in front of them.

O’Connor was justifiably irate and Orara co-coaches Grant Douglass and Paul Tomlinson shared his emotion, not wanting to find themselves put in that situation.

After losing out to the Axemen, Bello had to back up immediately and was no match for Woolgoolga in the next encounter.

“What happened to us was outrageous,” O’Connor seethed.

“But we didn’t help ourselves by not getting over it in time and the lack of effort showed.

“I know it’s early stages but we have to have everybody getting more committed than what you saw out there.”

Coffs then returned to the field and Donovan gave the young Orara rookies a close look at his talents before the Axemen bowed out – not before pleasing their coaches.

“We really looked the goods in our first outing but faded a bit toward the end of the second match, but put that down to lack of experience,” Douglass said.

“The boys dropped a bit of ball and you expect that in sevens footy but overall, we’re very pleased at how it went.”

Tomlinson had some reservations about the final score line and again, may have had justification.

Their last ‘try’ was disallowed after claims the crossing was made after the hooter but even the Comets were happy to admit winger Nathan Hardy had been as much as two full seconds ahead of the clock.

Which brought on the final showdown between the two highest qualifiers and another series of sparkling interventions by Matt Donovan.

After engaging in cat-and-mouse tactics for the first five minutes and seeing what the other had to offer, Coffs and Woopi both cut loose with a flurry of scoring to set up a 20-all score line at intermission.

It went to 24-24, then 28-28 before Coffs stole a march at 32-30.

Donovan showed his human side when pushed into touch just short of the try line and the Seahorses almost stole victory when they crossed to lead by four points.

But Donovan found more space in the dying seconds and lobbed the pass for the winning try.

“We forced the ball when we didn’t need to but this is a young side with huge potential and we had a lot of fun,” Woopi coach Greg Shuttleworth said.

Winning coach Gilkinson put his victory into context for this time of year.

“Twice today we came from behind to win and that’s going to be good practice for later in the year when we need to,” he said.

Group 2 Sevens Scores

Coffs Harbour 14 d Woolgoolga 12

Orara Valley 26 d Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo 14

Woolgoolga 24 d Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo 12

Coffs Harbour 16 d Orara Valley 10

Coffs Harbour 38 d Woolgoolga (Final)



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