Pioneers into final
THE Oxley Pioneers are headed for another CRL Regional Championship grand final after overcoming the Western Rams 32-28 at Tamworth in Saturday's semi-final.
The finest under-18 rugby league players from Groups 2, 3 and 4 won the championship last year and Pioneers' coach Peter Barrett admits that he's tickled pink the boys have a chance to defend their title.
“We're going for back-to-back with the Pioneers and after Group 2 won in 2007, a couple of us are going for three in a row,” he said.
The Pioneers couldn't have started their march towards victory any better having scored twice in their opening four sets.
From then on it was a hard slog but the home team always managed to have a slight buffer over the Rams.
Leading 18-12 at half time, the Pioneers did enough after the interval to push the score out to 32-24 with only 10 minutes remaining.
Macleay Valley's Danny Cooper scored a pair of tries while Nambucca Heads' Alex Hull also crossed the tryline and converted a try and the Pioneers looked home.
A knock on from the resulting kick-off though invited the Rams back into the contest and they accepted gleefully to cut the margin back to four and ensure a tense final few minutes.
Barrett was pleased with how his team performed while the ball was in their hands but was bitterly disappointed with the way the young squad defended.
“In defence we didn't muscle up,” he said.
“Our defence let us down and then we started making mistakes.”
The final will be played in Orange on Friday, May 8 as a curtain-raiser to the City v Country Origin clash.
The Pioneers will face the Central Hunter Power who overcame the Newcastle Rebels by 10 points in their semi-final.
OXLEY PIONEERS 32 (Danny Cooper 2, Jai Smith, Jerome Hammond, Cameron Rogers, Alex Hull tries; Matt Nean 3, Hull goals) def WESTERN RAMS 28 (Brad Spencer, Cameron Miller, Eric Fernando, Josh Merritt, Brendan Simpson, Mitch Davies tries; Kane Parkes 2 goals).
Played at Tamworth.