In a Group 9 season shortened by the Covid-19 pandemic and strengthened by the influx of quality players due to other postponed rugby league competitions, the Tumut Blues have held their heads high.
Tumut went through the regular season undefeated and lost their only game, which was their preliminary final against Gundagai, going down 8-6 at Twickenham.
After beating Young 22-8 in their elimination final last weekend, Blues enter Sunday’s grand final against Gundagai, eyeing a rare chance to go back-to-back in what is one of NSW strongest country rugby league compositions.
In this article, the Tumut and Adelong Times take stock of the season just gone, commenting on weekly results, keys signings and important moments of a short, but exhilarating season.
The Blues commenced their pre-season early, with strong numbers attending despite the Dunns Road bushfires, but Covid-19 hijacked these plans.
In a comment before the season started, co-captain/coach Dean Bristow explained how this interruption had impacted their preparations.
“I honestly didn’t expect we would be playing; we lost a lot and it was hard for guys to keep motivated,” Bristow said. “We realistically only had six weeks to prepare for the season.”
Despite a shortened preparation, the club was buoyed by the return of Zac Masters, Jed Pearce, Jacob McGrath, Jacob Sturt and Austin McDougall, while new players such as Matt Byatt, Connor Massen and Tolo Aroha-Tuinauvai bolstered their already strong playing stocks.
The Blues soon turned into competition favourites and looked in for another big season.
In a thrilling start to the 2020 Group 9 competition, Tumut and Gundagai shared the points 16-all at Twickenham.
Connor Massen scored the first try of the season, while Austin McDougall chipped in with one.
Still, it was a Brayden Draber four-pointer in the final minutes that levelled the scores for Tumut.
After the game, Dean Bristow said Tumut were lucky to get away with a draw.
“To be honest, I thought we got away with that. We backed our defence too much and we put ourselves under way too much pressure,” Bristow said.
In a somewhat scrappy performance, Tumut did enough to account for Wagga Kangaroos 24-18 in Wagga, with Tolo Aroha-Tuinauvai playing his first game and proving the difference by scoring two tries.
Veteran finisher Matt Richards also scored two, and Zac Masters chipped in for one.
After the match, Aroha-Tuinauvai said it was a tough, but good start to his Group 9 playing career.
“It was pretty tough, the boys did well in the middle and looked after me and I just finished off what they laid down,” he said.
The Blues put in their best performance of the season in round three, blowing Young away 40-12 at Twickenham.
In the clubs best 40 minutes by far, Lachlan Bristow, Jacob Toppin and Dean Bristow cut up the Cherrypickers middle men in the first half, which came on the back of a rampaging Blues forward pack.
Unfortunately, injuries cruelled Tumut in this game too, with Lachlan Bristow (ankle) and Dean Bristow (back) ruled out for extended periods, but the opportunity did unearth future star Parish Bellette, who stood up at fullback after only two games of reserve grade.
Without doing anything too exciting, Tumut did what was needed to be done in round six, knocking off a struggling Southcity 30-20 at Harris Park.
Jed Pearce and Zac Masters laid a great platform and even scored a try each, while outside backs Parish Bellette, Connor Massen and Tolo Arohoa-Tuinauvai all crossed for meat pies, whilst Andy Harris made his first-grade debut.
Jacob Toppin steered the side around the park on the day and commented on the result that took Tumut to top of the Group 9 table.
“It was just a hard-fought game, they played really well and worked our big fellas around the middle and tired us out a little bit,” Toppin said.
“It was scrappy but the young fellas came in for us and did the job. Andy Harris stepped up and made his (first grade) debut and played well and Parish (Bellette) and Braydo (Draber) did a good job.”
Round five of the competition saw a bye for Tumut, but it marked an important week, which allowed injured stars to recover for the final three rounds of the season and finals.
During this round, Brothers accounted for Young 32-18 to more or less secure a finals birth, while Gundagai took top spot via points difference after belting Kangaroos 32-8.
In horrendous conditions, a struggling Junee couldn’t stop Tumut at Laurie Daley Oval, with the visitors running out 20-4 winners.
Brayden Draber was exceptional for Tumut, scoring two tries and really taking on a strong and noticeable leadership role out wide.
Junee struggled in the middle though, with Tumut’s big bodies rolling over the advantage line with ease.
In another stellar performance, Tumut ended Brothers hopes of a minor premiership at Twickenham, belting the Brethren 44-18.
Zac Masters was unstoppable and man-handled his opposition, while fellow big men Jed Pearce and Jacob Sturt made easy metres and scored well-earned tries.
Masters praised the entire pack after the strong win, believing they set the platform for a good victory.
“I think everyone stood up today, we expected Brothers to come out firing and they did, but we really stood up and took it to them and that really set the platform for us,” Masters said.
Unfortunately, Jacob Toppin injured his ribs in this game and would miss Tumut’s next two games, while Jacob Sturt would miss the next two games after a training mishap.
In the final regular season game of the year, an undefeated Tumut and Gundagai didn’t hold back any punches at Anzac Park, with the Blues edging the Tiger’s 20-18 in thrilling circumstances.
Gundagai took the early lead, but a tenacious Tumut fought back to take a slender lead with only minutes remaining.
Gundagai could have levelled the game on the siren, but a James Luff conversion hit the post, leaving Tumut as the winners and minor premiers.
In the first week of finals, Tumut and Gundagai again played, but this time it was in Tumut.
A low-scoring match saw each team finish with just one try, but it was James Luff who earned redemption, nailing a 30m penalty conversion in the second half to help his side to an 8-6 win.
Luff was pleased after the result, and hinted Tumut may have a tougher time of things in their elimination final against the Cherrypickers the following weekend, after they had easily accounted for Brothers 40-10 a day earlier.
“I was able to make up for last week, so there was a little redemption there, but importantly, it was a great win for us, especially up here and now they need to play down there (and) Young are just starting to hit their straps and they are going to be a danger side,” Luff said.
Although many rugby league pundits predicted Tumut would struggle against Young, a well-rounded Blues performance saw them win 22-8 at Anzac Park.
Tumut were very good in the first 20 minutes and kept Young scoreless in the second half, proving they are clicking at the right time and ready for Sunday’s decider against arch-rivals, Gundagai.
Dean Bristow explained what it meant to beat Young and earn the chance to go back-to-back.
“It’s awesome mate, we’ve given ourselves a shot to go back-to-back, which was the goal we set at the start of the year,” Bristow said.