Not many rugby league fans would have expected the one-sided contest that was on show at McDonalds Park on Sunday, with Gundagai running riot over an out of sorts Tumut Blues, winning the 2020 Group 9 decider 40-18.
From the third minute of the match, when Matt Lyons sprinted clear on the right edge for the first of his three tries, it was evident that the Tigers were up for the challenge.
An ill-disciplined Tumut, who made mistakes at the worst possible times, would pay the ultimate price.
A clinical Gundagai crossed for seven tries in total, with Jack Lyons pinching a double and Charlie Barton and James Luff also scoring.
Tumut would score sporadically throughout the contest, with Connor Massen, Dean Bristow, Tevita Aroha-Tuinauvai and Lewis Arragon all crossing for tries, but it would not be enough in a mistake-riddled effort.
Captain/coach Dean Bristow said Gundagai did everything right on the day, while Tumut failed to stick to their game plan.
“They did everything we wanted to do, they came out with a high completion rate and dominated field possession,” Bristow said.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t do it and they did everything really well.”
Bristow admitted a first half riddled with mistakes was the biggest killer for a usually disciplined Tumut Blues.
“It massively hurt us, that is what these grand finals are all about,” Bristow said.
“We spoke about it during the week; last year when we won it, we competed at 90% and I reckon today we would have completed at around 30% for that first half and anytime we tried to build pressure we just coughed it up.”
Bristow couldn’t name one Gundagai player that stood out the most, and instead said a clinical Tigers utilised their week off well, proving way too good on the day.
“It’s hard to single one player out, they were all good,” Bristow said.
“They had the week off, they were freshened up and they came here with a game plan and they executed.”
The outgoing skipper said it was tough finishing his career on such a sour note, but understood that losing was part and parcel of rugby league.
“It’s never easy going out like that and not many people get the scripted fairy-tale ending and unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be for me,” Bristow said.
Blues prop Zac Masters agreed with Bristow, and said it was a lack of ball control that cost his team the game.
“It was like the gods were against us today, we came out with the right attitude and the lead up to the game was perfect, but we came out and made too many mistakes and couldn’t hang on to the ball,” Masters said.
“We didn’t give ourselves a chance to win that game at all.”
Masters said it was mistakes in key attacking opportunities that cost Tumut the most on Sunday.
“Our first three attacking opportunities, we dropped the ball on the second or third tackle and you can’t win first grade games, let alone grand finals doing that and we gave them a chance and they took full advantage of it,” Masters said.
The 2019 premiership winning bookend believed the tough loss would be motivation enough for the Blues playing group, who were yet to suffer a grand final loss prior to Sunday.
“I said to a few of the boys after the game, just remember this, remember this feeling,” Masters said.
“A lot of us have never felt this before because a lot of us won our first grand final last year, and now we know how it feels to lose and we will use that next year as extra motivation.”
In a positive message to players and supporters, Masters said a strong local contingent, including himself, would be the basis of future Group 9 success.
“This season still proves that with our local juniors, we are right up there with the best of them in the competition,” Masters said.
“Gundagai are a bloody good side, and full credit to them, but we will be ready to come back and give it a crack next year.”
For a full match review, an interview with the winner of the John Hill medal for best on ground and other Group 9 grand final stories, turn to page 16 and 17 of the Tumut and Adelong Times.
Rested Tigers provide too much bite
Two things were clear in the opening forays of Sunday’s Group 9 grand final: the week off had freshened Gundagai, and they were also keen to move the ball around more than the forwards-dominated affairs played out by the arch-rivals in the two games of the past three weeks.
Gundagai’s expansive approach paid dividends straight away. Luke Berkrey got the ball rolling just three minutes in when he threw a cut-out pass to centre Matt Lyons, who stepped into open spaces, turned the cover inside out and surged over to score a sizzling try spanning 40m.
After all the one-out play of the past couple of encounters between the arch-rivals, Berkrey’s pass caught Tumut napping.
It was a tactic that would continue to cause Tumut’s left-side defence problems for the rest of the match.
James Luff nailed the kick and it was a dream start for the black and golds.
While Gundagai started by far the better, the Blues took about 10 minutes to work their way into the game, with the big forwards beginning to make inroads. Unfortunately, they frittered away their first couple of assaults on the try line through simple knock-ons.
Play was soon back at the other end and a penalty for a late hit on Berkrey presented Luff with a gift two points to extend the lead to 8-0 after 14 minutes.
While the Blues weren’t quite in sync, their opponents were making the most of any opportunity – and creating chances when there seemingly wasn’t much happening.
Brilliant play from rangy centre Dane O’Heir to collect a bomb, swivel and somehow deliver a perfect pass to Charlie Barton, all in the one motion, delivered the Tigers their second try and a 12-0 lead.
A crucial period in the contest came 25 minutes in, when Tumut winger Connor Massen collected an opposition kick on his own line and raced upfield, before finding the speedy Brayden Draber on the inside. Just as it looked like Tumut might go 100m, the ball was once more fumbled, and just moments later the Blues were made to pay as Mtt Lyons again wreaked havoc, sucking in two defenders and sending brother Jack over to score via a delightful pass. With almost half an hour gone, the Tigers were roaring at 16-0.
A fumbled kick heaped more pressure on the Blues just a couple of minutes later and Gundagai was in the type of mood to take full advantage, with Luff stepping and burrowing over from dummy half to give his side a commanding 22-0 advantage.
It’s been a while since Tumut has been on the wrong end of that type of scoreline, but they did rally late in the half.
Desperately needing a score both to stop the rot and for their confidence, they got it in the throes of halftime when the left-edge finally got one back on the Lyons brothers, with Draber beating his opposite to put Massen away in the corner.
The much-needed try gave the Blues at least a ray of hope for the second stanza, but it had been Gundagai’s half at 22-4.
The second stanza started much like the first, as Berkrey sliced through on the right edge and galloped into the clear before drawing the fullback to put Matt Lyons away for a runaway four-pointer.
It was a big blow to the Blues’ chances of mounting a second stanza comeback, but some big charges from Tolo Aroha-Tuiauvai and a repeat set allowed them to finally build some pressure, which turned into points when a long Michael Fenn pass was scooped up nicely by Tuinauvai to send Dean Bristow over in the corner, giving fans a dose of joy in the 49th minute. Toppin missed the conversion, but was given a rare chance to try again by referee Scott Muir, who deemed crowd interference, only for the five-eighth to miss again from the touchline. Tumut trailed 28-8.
There was a further chance to eat into the big lead when Adam Pearce dummied through and put Draber away, but Tigers fullback James Smart snuffed out the opportunity.
It wasn’t long before the Tigers had a reply and once more it came down their right side. This time it was Blake Dunn turning back the clock, providing a sublime flick pass while holding the defence at bay to present on a platter Matt Lyons’ third for the day. With that try, the result was all but beyond doubt, even with 25 minutes to play.
Frustration spilled over when Tumut half Jordan Anderson was sent off for a high shot, leaving the Blues to play out the 20 minutes of the match with 12 men.
Despite the numerical disadvantage and a virtually impossible task, the defending premiers showed some resolve late in proceedings.
A spectacular close range try set up by a Lachlan Bristow flick and an Aroha-Tuinauvai touchdown with 15 to go was a highlight.
A few minutes later Bristow delivered another great pass close to the line, this time a loopy cut-out, sending makeshift winger Lewis Arragon over out wide for the Blues’ fourth. Toppin landed his first conversion and Tumut trailed by 16 with 10 to go.
But Gundagai fittingly had the final say and they did so following the script that had brought them so much success on the day: Berkrey, drifting wide right to Matt Lyons, who got the ball to his brother. This time Jack had a bit to do, shrugging off a defender and streaking 25m for his second of the day.
By the end of the 80 minutes, the Tigers had secured a dominant 40-18 triumph and were crowned the kings of Group 9.