IT was nearly the upset of the competition when Wallerawang Warriors pushed the Lithgow Bears all the way to ultimately go down 24-22 in a thriller.
The Court House Hotel sponsored Lithgow Bears with the win retained their undefeated run in the Centennial Coal Cup competition.
In front of a large crowd enjoying the warmer weather conditions, the Bears faced a very determined Warriors outfit that boasted a number of their former players.
After a very physical opening to the match the Bears managed to put first points on the board when coach Brett Ranse eluded the defence to score in a handy position.
Jared Miller made no mistake with the conversion to lead 6-0.
Five minutes later, Bears’ centre Ben Picman crashed over for his team’s second try and once again Miller was on target from a difficult angle to push the score onto 12-0.
In the 28th minute of the match Bear’s five eighth Steve McMurtrie was sin binned for a professional foul and almost immediately the match changed direction.
Warriors’ hard running centre Dave Howard crossing out wide to give the visitors their first points.
The conversion attempt was unsuccessful but the Warriors were back in the match trailing 12-4.
Just before halftime, the Warriors Mark Vucetic was in for their second try and when former Bears’ coach Kel Lampton converted the Bears held a narrow 12-10 lead at the break.
Ranse reinforced to his side that they needed to stick to their game plan in the second half and if they could then they should be able to keep the Warriors at bay.
The Bears started the second half strongly with big Joe Noon catching the Warriors napping to cross for a try under the posts after some good lead up work from his fellow forwards. Miller converted to give the Bears a 18-10 lead.
But as they had done in the first half the Warriors came back strongly and narrowed the lead to two points after another converted try.
The Bears stuck to their game plan and after Picman made good ground through the centre of the ruck.
McMurtrie capitalised with a try out wide to give the Bears an eight point lead at 24-16.
The Warriors were getting stronger as the game went on with the ‘carrot’ being the competition leaders scalp.
Midway through the half, the Warriors’ was in again through Dave Howard following good pressure to make the score 24-12.
Both sides upped the intensity with strong defence and clever kicks looking for the winning try.
The Bears’ outside backs and fullback were continually under pressure retrieving kicks from Kel Lampton and five eighth Scott McCann in behind the defensive line.
The defence though from both sides was excellent continually saving what looked certain to be try scoring opportunities.
The Warriors set up a thrilling finish when Josh Jones scored to push the scores on to 24-22.
With time almost up the Warriors were on the attack and appeared to have an overlap on their right hand side but instead of putting the ball through hands another kick was used which enabled the Bears to snuff out any hope the visitors had of snatching the match.
Both clubs and their sponsors and supporters can be proud of the efforts from the local teams and while the Bears remain undefeated, this was a close call. The good news for the competition is that both sides are certain to improve on those performances.
James Reinhardt was once again awarded three best and fairest points taking out the Donnybrook award for his efforts, while Tony Northey received two points after putting in another non-stop performance with Peter Bradford receiving one point for his tireless display.
Joe Noon, Jim Reinhardt and Ben Picman shared the Players Player votes while Reinhardt picked up three points from the Referee. Jared Miller received two points for his outstanding contribution and Dave Howard from Wang received a point.
Wallerawang had some excellent performers also with their two centres Dave Howard and Dave Millmore, Kel Lampton, Kyle Willmott and Scott McCann outstanding along with their forwards who all stood up against the big Bears’ pack.
Other results saw Kandos Waratahs thrash Villages United which leap frogs them into outright third position overtaking the Warriors and Villages and Portland Colts defeated Orange Barbarians at Portland to record their first win of the year while CSU Blue outlasted CSU Yellow to keep them near the top of the table.
At the halfway mark of the competition the Lithgow Bears remain undefeated on 14 points followed by CSU Blue on 12 points. Then come Kandos on 8 followed by Wang and Villages both on 7 points, CSU Yellow 4 points, and Barbarians and Portland on 2 points.
This weekend the Bears travel to Kandos to take on the Waratahs who are probably the other form side of the competition.
Lithgow Bears 24 (Ben Picman, Brett Ranse, Steve McMurtrie, Joe Noon tries, Jared Miller 4 goals) def Wang Warriors 22 (Dave Howard 2, Mark Vucetic, Josh Jones tries, Kel Lampton 3 goals).