ON a day to mark the 100th anniversary of rugby league kicking off in Wingham, it was fitting the oldest player in the field was also the best.
Wingham captain-coach Mick Sullivan produced a vintage performance to steer the Tigers to a comprehensive 46-22 win over Taree City in front of the biggest crowd at the Wingham Sporting Complex since the 2003 grand final. The result broke Wingham's duck for the year and left the Bulls in the cellar, with three losses from as many matches.
Playing halfback, Sullivan finished with four try assists while his passes regularly sent supports surging into gaps. He wasn't tackled too often, he was too smart for that.
While happy to get the win, Sullivan wasn't over-enthused about the team's execution.
"We were still scrappy,'' he said.
"But we were lucky enough to get away with it today. In front of a big home crowd we didn't want to let this one slip.
"We aimed up in that last 15, which was good. We've got two points in the bank and hopefully we'll go on a roll from here,'' he added.
"We've got a few things to work on.''
The Bulls were better than the final score indicates. But they couldn't maintain consistent pressure on the Wingham defence. And on two occasions, after they'd scored a try, Taree City lost possession from the re-start. This proved particularly crucial after centre Anthony Smith snatched an intercept and ran 90 metres to score his second try.
This was converted by Logan Wallis and the Bulls were down 34-22 with 10 on the board. However, the kickoff was fumbled and from the resulting scrum burley Wingahm prop Jackson Mullen, standing a five-eighth, carried defenders with him in a determined run to score. Lock Nick Beacham landed the goal at at 40-22.
We aimed up in that last 15, which was good. We've got two points in the bank and hopefully we'll go on a roll from here.Wingham captain-coach Mick Sullivan
Captain-coach Trae Clark, who was Taree's at halfback, said the Bulls need to show more resilience.
"We make a mistake and we seem to give up - put our heads down,'' he said.
"We're a new side this year and we're coming together good. But we need to break that habit of giving up.''
Elusive fullback JJ Gibson had two tries on the board for the Tigers within 10 minutes. They were mirror images of each other. Sullivan worked the short side and sent five-eighth Trent Grofos careering into space through sloppy edge defence. Grofos in turn picked up the ubiquitous Gibson. Beacham converted both.
The Wingham pack were workers, led by prop Mullen and second rower Joel Kleindienst. They both finished with two tries.
Taree fought back after Wingham's whirlwind start via Smith's first try after hooker Oscar Carey worked a play on a short blind. Smith landed the conversion. Carey's a good player, who picks his time to run from dummy half while he also defends strongly.
We make a mistake and we seem to give up - put our heads downTaree captain-coach Trae Clark
However, Sullivan skipped through a tackle to create Gibson's third try. Before the break Paul Campbell scored for Taree narrowing the margin to 16-10 but the Bulls made an error in the the play-the-ball soon after and Beacham was able to get a pass to Kleindienst and the big second rower was over for his first. The conversion made it 22-10 at oranges.
Young Taree prop Sam Burnes paid for a silly indiscretion midway through the second half when he was sent to the sin bin when Wingham led 28-16. From the next play Sullivan put hooker Mitch Collins over to make the score 32-16, Beacham's goal making it 34-16, the game then seemingly in Wingham's control.
The Tigers broke into the the club song on the field at fulltime to celebrate a game that was 100 years in the making. Some of Wingham's greatest players were in the crowd and all were looking forward to the celebrations to follow.
It'll be a big night in Tiger Town.
Wingham also won the reserve grade and women's league tag. Taree's sole success came in the under 18s, where halfback Nav Willett contributed 32 points with five tries and six goals in the 40-18 win.