Bellingen prop Ryan O’Connor ignored obvious aches and pains to take the field for the Group 2 team on the weekend.
Bellingen prop Ryan O’Connor ignored obvious aches and pains to take the field for the Group 2 team on the weekend. TREVOR VEALE

Group 2's close calls

GROUP 2 was the surprise packet at the Northern New South Wales round of the Country Rugby League championships held in Inverell last weekend.

A shock ending to their opening clash with Group 11 caused a 32-24 loss and a nervous wait to discover they’d be playing the final against the top seeds.

Comets winger Karl Younger fielded a kick in the in-goal but the ball was stripped by three Group 11 attackers and the referee awarded a try which cost Group 2 the lead with three minutes remaining.

The side then faced odds-on tournament favourites Group 19 in a game only the touring party felt they could win and almost pulled off an unbelievable upset.

But replacement Luke Cartwright’s disallowed try in the dying seconds was a fatal outcome and the competition hotshots managed a miraculous 32-28 escape.

Despite television replays clearly showing the Macksville utility had forced the ball before it sped away from his grasp, coach Peter Denham had no sour grapes and saluted Group 19 as worthy winners.

“My blokes gave everything they had and can leave this place with their heads up,” he said.

“They gave everything I asked for ... plus a little more as well ... and I’ve never been on a footy tour with a better group of blokes.

“Fair dinkum, they are the best ever to represent Group 2.”

Young centre Kieran Vale must be on the short list for Country Seconds selection after proving a handful in both matches, while clubmate and captain Michael Bright led by example.

However, Bellingen prop Ryan O’Connor was an inspirational force when it most counted.

Twelve hours before the final game he was no chance of starting but

somehow got his battered and bruised body through the warm-up, before heading on to the field with front row partner Troy Grace and giving lessons of how to take the game up to more-fancied opponents.

Group 2 chief Greg Mayhew said he was blown away by the performances and is keen to keep the successful team and back-up crew together.

“This has been the best performance by a senior Group side in many, many decades – probably the best I’ve seen – and we want the players, coaches and managers to all to stick with it to take us to the next stage,” he said.



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