There has been a lot of talk about Tumut’s imposing forward pack in 2021, and so there should be, with the Blues blessed with one of the biggest and most damaging group of forwards in recent Group 9 memory.
The Tumut Blues aren’t a one-trick pony though, boasting a talented backline laden with try-scoring ability and speed to burn.
In fact, three of their backs are listed in Group 9’s top 10 try scorers so far this season, with Brayden Draber sitting outright third with 11 tries, while Mitch Ivill and Tom Hickson have each crossed the line nine times in 2021.
It is Tumut’s left edge that is doing most of the damage, with Draber and Hickson combining nicely for 20 tries.
The Blue’s dynamic duo were ever-present for the Woolpack Jets in the 2021 Tumut Pub 9s, helping their side to Roddy Shield glory, and it is this connection that is paying dividends for Tumut as they lead the Group 9 competition.
“It’s good to be playing together, we have built a few combinations there, especially playing nines and moving into first grade, which is really good,” Draber said.
Confidence and depth seem to be the key for Tumut’s backline in 2021 and Draber explained that everyone in the side believed they could get the job done when presented with opportunities to score.
“We just back each other up and if we do get into a bit of space, we have that option to back ourselves and know we can offload because the boys are backing us up,” Draber said.
“We also have a fair bit of depth this year. If someone gets hurt, we know we have the players.
“Like Billy (Bridgeman) and Tommy, they have stepped up this year, it’s been really good and I think it is up there as one of the best backlines we have had for a while.”
Draber, who debuted in 2017, is having a breakout year for Tumut, with the 22-year-old proving to be a dangerous commodity in every game he has played, but even he put his opportunities back onto a good platform laid by Tumut’s forwards.
“I think centre is my preferred position now and I’m pretty happy with how I’m going this year,” Draber said.
“I think it definitely comes off the back of our middles. They do an excellent job for us getting out of our own half and setting a platform so we can get to our spots and we are just going off the back of that.”
Hickson, who forced his way into Tumut’s starting squad, making his first-grade debut on the wing in round one against Gundagai, has been a shining light for Tumut, looking very much at home in the top squad.
The 20-year-old said it helped having Draber and Tommy Jeffery on the inside of him after playing with the pair in the Pub 9s.
“It definitely helps. We all know what we are thinking when we are doing something, and that partnership is good,” Hickson said.
The youngster never dreamed he would play the first 11 games of the season, let alone scoring nine tries in the process.
“I wouldn’t have picked this at the start of the season, no way, I was pretty happy just to debut in first-grade and to still be here, coming into the back end of the season, it’s pretty good,” Hickson said.
It took him some time for Hickson to get the body and mind ready to play first grade leading into 2021 and he explained why he was off the scene before returning to the fold this year.
“I was playing under 18s for a bit and I wasn’t quite good enough to jump right into first-grade,” Hickson said.
“Then I played reserves and had a bit of a break and came back when I was a bit more ready and loving the game a bit more.”
The local product is making a name for himself as a big game player, scoring a full length of the field try against Gundagai in Junee back in round 12 and performing well above his weight in both Maher Cup fixtures.
Still, Hickson said he was learning his trade and trying to improve every game.
“I didn’t score in that first game against Gundagai when I made a break, I should have backed myself, and it was a bit of a learning curve that one,” Hickson said.
“When I got the opportunity against them at Junee, I just backed myself and thought about getting it done and not getting tackled and it worked out well.”
With the Group 9 season getting to the business end, Tumut will be hoping their talented finishers fire on Saturday when the Blues host a third-placed Young Cherrypickers at Twickenham.
Group 9 top try scorers
Latrell Siegwalt (Southcity Bulls) 13
Nathan Rose (Southcity Bulls) 12
Brayden Draber (Tumut Blues) 11
Daniel Foley (Southcity Bulls) 10
Jake Veney (Young Cherrypickers) 10
Jahnayah Freeman (Young Cherrypickers) 9
Cody Hodge (Southcity Bulls) 9
Mitch Ivill (Tumut Blues) 9
Tom Hickson (Tumut Blues) 9
Lachlan Bristow (Tumut Blues) 8