WAUCHOPE turned around two months of poor form to storm into the Group Three Rugby League major semi-final with a commanding 28-14 win over Wingham in the preliminary semi-final at Wingham.
The Blues will now meet Macleay Valley next Sunday in the major semi while the Tigers face a rejuvenated Port City in the minor semi at Wingham on Saturday.
Wingham went into the match minus five regular first graders who were either injured or overseas for various reasons. Their depth could be even further tested next week after two players, centre Kurt Lewis and second rower Jake Wheeler were sent off in separate incidents by referee Kyle Bannerman. Lewis would appear to be the most likely to be missing. He was hunted 15 minutes into the second half following an altercation that saw players from both sides involved. Bannerman marched Lewis and also gave Wauchope players Tristan Scott and Matt Bird 10 in the bin.
Time was as good as up when Wheeler was given his orders following a Wauchope try to centre Sam Watts. It's understood Wheeler will be charged with dissent. Five-eighth Kyran Budd was given 10 minutes as well, leaving the Tigers with 10 players on the field, although the match had been won and lost by then.
Wauchope only won one game in the second round and trailed the Tigers 10-0 early in the first half. However, they produced a workmanlike performance to grind the Tigers down. Their defence for the most part was tight while their forwards, led by diminutive lock Ollie Pascoe won the ruck. Centres Beau White and Sam Watts both finished with two tries. White in particular proved a handful for the defence. Halfback Tristan Scott produced some nice touches throughout the game.
Young fullback Tony Thompson was also strong for the Blues, a fact acknowledged by coach Anthony Boyd after the match.
"He's going to be an outstanding player. He's only 17 and with a bit of time under his belt he could go somewhere in the game,'' Boyd said.
Boyd said it was a solid performance from the Blues.
"I'm not going to lie, we're not naturally gifted,'' he said.
"We have one or two players like Beau (White) and Tristan (Scott) who have that X-Factor, but we're a young side and we have to work hard for our wins. Our strength is working together and that's what we're going to have to do if we're going to get anywhere in this competition.''
The Tigers were pedestrian in attack. Play meandered from sideline to sideline and didn't ask the defence too many questions, while their kicking game, apart from the two that led to tries, was more in hope than with a plan.
Injured coach Michael Sullivan spoke at length to his players in the sheds after the match.
"It was more than disappointing,'' Sullivan said later.
He said second rower Tim Watson would be back next week and possibly centre Tim Bridge. Sullivan's recovering from an ankle injury but he hopes to be right.
"I'm going to have to try and run now,'' he added.
Props Joel Kliendienst and Nick Beacham had huge games for the Tigers but Wingham now faces a major test if they're to stay in the premiership race.
The game had a spectacular start for the Tigers when young winger Jarrad Gibson produced a great try where he twice grabbed the ball from a kick in midair before controlling the football and planting it in the corner. Danny Russell landed the conversion. A pinpoint kick from Lewis found the unmarked Gibson soon after and the Tigers were up by 10.
But slowly the Blues worked their way back into the contest by dominating field position and possession. White used his strength to score the first try and Watts kicked the goal to reduce the margin to four points at 10-6. White then ran an angle and through tackles to post his second and at the half hour mark it was 12-10.
Wingham had the opportunity to draw level twice in the last five minutes when they were awarded penalties inside the Wauchope 22 and almost in front. On both occasions they opted for the tap and came up with nothing.
Soon after the resumption Wauchope forced a line drop and from the ensuing set Thompson joined the backline and sent a well timed pass to unmarked winger Jackson Novosa to race over for an unconverted try. The Tigers pulled four points back with a try to centre Nathan Maher after Mitch Collins and Michael Rees combined to give him space, Rees sending a smart pass to Maher and he did the rest. The usually reliable Russell missed the conversion and with 14 on the clock it was 16-14 to the Blues.
But the Blues finished the stronger. A clever kick by Scott was accepted by Watts and he was over unopposed and his goal stretched the margin to 22-14 with eight minutes left. Watts scored his second just before time where there was a suggestion that White had knocked on, or at least that's what the Tigers thought. That's when Bannerman give Wheeler and Budd early marks.
Forster-Tuncurry defeated Taree City 22-8 in the league tag game while Old Bar Pirates held on to down Port City 16-14 in the under 18s. Forster made it a double by taking out a fluctuating reserve grade encounter 34-24. The girl's under 16s nines grand final saw Wauchope overwhelm Port City 42-4.
More on these games online tomorrow and in Wednesday's paper.