Comets win the championships
COFFS Harbour Comets are the toast of Group 2 Beautizone after their under-16 side survived an almighty scare from Kempsey to win the season’s blue ribbon junior rugby league championship at Bowraville on Saturday.
Coffs scraped home 24-22 after Dragons centre Jake Bakker missed a conversion attempt from the sideline that could have sent the game into extra time.
The match featured the good aspects of the code with a swag of flamboyant tries.
But there were also some anxious moments as the crowd watched and waited during a long hold-up while an ambulance was called to assist Kempsey fullback Rueben Dufty who suffered a suspected broken jaw when he tried to stop a Coffs try.
And late in the game there was an unwanted incident with a young Comet sent from the field, and referee John Cole indicating he will allege the player deliberately shoulder-charged him – the second such incident in under-age league in three weeks.
The Comets started the grand final the hottest of favourites and that assessment looked correct when they raced out to an early 12-0 lead.
Sam Anderson opened the scoring when he ran through paper-thin defence close to the line off a Lachlan Miller pass.
It was Miller – the eventual man of the match – who crossed next when he broke through the Kempsey defence near the halfway line and raced away to score under the posts.
That served to ignite a fire in the Kempsey players’ bellies and they lifted in defence, forcing Coffs into errors which led them to botch what would have been their third try.
And then the underdogs found some magic of their own.
Five-eighth Jacob Smith, who had been tormenting the attacking Comets with superb close-in defence, swooped upon a dropped ball on his own quarter and raced to the opposite end to close the gap to 12-6.
Coffs coach Peter Lee admitted he’d felt the butterflies at that stage with the young side not performing at their peak.
“It took them a while to get switched on,” he said.
“If they’re not there early it always worries me a bit as it takes ages to get going.”
But Lee’s coaching talents shone through not long after the teams turned around with his decision to keep them active during a forced break probably proving the difference between the sides.
The Comets hit the ground full of running in the second term and winger Nathan Dyson made the most of it, breaking through a series of tackles to score.
In his bid to stop Dyson, the Dragons fullback was crunched and spent the next 25 minutes prostrate on the field while the ambulance travelled to Hennessey-Tape Oval.
Players remained on the field during the long break and while Lee’s troops were put through a series of drills, the young Dragons appeared rattled by the sight of their teammate lying on the ground and resisted most calls from coach Kevin ‘Sambo’ Smith to remain focussed.
“While that was going on, all I did was make sure they stayed alive and awake,” Lee revealed.
When Dufty was finally assisted from the field, Coffs grabbed the ascendency with Alex Dungay fielding a kick over the top by Miller to score and extend the lead to 24-6.
The young Dragons then shrugged off their lethargy and really started breathing fire.
Halfback Michael McPhillips, wearing the 77 jumper in tribute to late teammate Paul Davis Jr, broke loose down the left side of the ground and after a long, looping run, scored under the posts.
Jacob Smith then crossed for his second and it was in the aftermath of the try that the Comets player was sent off.
With time running out, Kempsey looked beaten before a miracle opportunity presented itself as they battled to defend their line.
A misdirected Coffs passed was snatched out of thin air by McPhillips who set off on his last-ditch dart to the opposite end.
He was almost collared on halfway and again as he neared the tryline but with a surge of late speed just managed to evade the army of pursuers.
Bakker then had the chance to level the scores but his conversion attempt fell just short.
“I’m really proud of the boys, I though they defended really well,” Lee said.
Kempsey skipper McPhillips paid tribute to the winning side but found a moment to reflect by mentioning the side’s late teammate (Paul Jr) in a poignant presentation speech.
“Coffs were the best in the game and I’m sorry we couldn’t pull it off for Davo,” he said.
“But I think he was still here with us today.”