The Tumut Blues secured their first minor premiership in 12 years and ended a decade-long losing streak at Anzac Park when they edged Gundagai 20-18 in a ferocious battle today between Group 9’s fiercest rivals.
Battered Blues leader Lachlan Bristow aptly described the clash as brutal, with each tackle a contest in itself.
The match was largely played out in the middle of the field, as has become the norm for these clashes over the past couple of years, and this time Tumut had the edge.
The forwards had a helping hand via rampaging rotund centre Tevita Aroha-Tuinauvai, who took an immeasurable amount of pressure off his hard-working pack via a series of barnstorming second half charges through the heart of a Gundagai defensive line that’s notoriously tough to bend back.
The sides will do it all again next week in the major semi-final, where the stakes will be even higher. A week’s rest and a passage straight into the grand final is on offer for the winner.
Given the taxing nature of matches between the neighbours, that week off will be a significant prize. The loser will have to pick themselves up to prepare for a preliminary final.
Lachlan Bristow, who wore more heavy knocks than most today, was happy to get the win.
“It was brutal, probably everything we expected,” he said. “We were up for it though.
“A bit of momentum went their way early, we weathered it. We knew it would turn.”
The hoodoo-breaking victory was achieved without key players Adam Pearce and Jacob Toppin, who are likely to come back in for the finals.
The opening salvos were evenly fought and Zac Masters and Tyron Gorman found themselves in the sin bin during that initial softening up period.
The Blues were stung by close-range tries to James Luff (13th) and Luke Berkrey (28th) to trail 12-0, but the visitors were getting through their sets strongly and there was always a feeling they’d come back into it.
Lachlan Bristow dummied his way over to get his side on the board in the 34th minute and while the Blues would give up a penalty goal to trail 14-6 at the break, things turned their way in the second half.
“I thought we started pretty well, but it wasn’t showing on the scoreboard,” Bristow said. “But we stayed tough and in the second half momentum shifted.”
Michael Fenn, playing as a left edge backrower in place of Pearce, got the Blues going when he steamrolled over two minutes into the half and nine minutes later Jordan Anderson picked up a deserved try when he jinked his way across to score, putting the Blues up 18-14.
Tempers flared again when Lachlan Bristow was floored in a legitimate Berkrey tackle, leading to a stint in the bin for himself and Aroha-Tuinauvai, who wasn’t happy with the treatment given to his skipper.
The Blues inched six points clear via a penalty goal midway through the half, and they looked to be controlling the game until the Tigers came with a rush in the final 10 minutes, spurred on by a powerhouse try to Jake Elphick in the 74th minute.
Scored midway between the posts and the touchline – and on reliable goalkicker James Luff’s favoured side – it was a surprise when his attempted conversion banged into the upright and ricocheted away. In the end, a few centimetres was the difference between the sides playing out a second draw for the season, with Tumut able to negotiate some hairy final moments to claim a big win.
But bigger matches are just around the corner.
Alongside Aroha-Tuinauvai’s powerful performance, prop Jed Masters, Fenn and Zac Masters all turned in titanic efforts in the sapping battle for forward supremacy, while Anderson hit like a sledgehammer in defence.
For the Tigers, lock Aisea Taholo was as good as anyone on the field, with Royce Tout and Joel Field also impressive for the vanquished.
Tumut 20 (L Bristow, M Fenn, J Anderson tries; B Draber 4 goals) d Gundagai 18 (J Luff, L Berkrey, J Elphick tries; J Luff 3 goals).