BATHURST Bulldogs’ defence proved the difference as they held out a fast-finishing Orange Emus in the Blowes Clothing Cup second grade grand final on Saturday.
The Bulldogs were up 6-0 at the break and pushed it out to 13-0 before Emus started to claw back but fell just short when the final whistle blew with the scores at 20-17.
It was the fourth time the two sides had met this season with the ‘Dogs winning every encounter but this was their tightest result.
Bulldogs captain Liam Berry said there was no doubt as to what won it for his side.
“Our defence. It was the willingness. Everyone was keen to do it no matter what,” Berry said.
It was the Bulldogs’ defence which provided a key moment in the game at Orange’s Endeavour Oval.
The visitors were up 13-5, 15 minutes into the second half, when Emus created an overlap on the left side.
Experienced back Graydon Staniforth reached the tryline and the entire crowd expected he would score but somehow the Bulldogs’ defence managed to not only tackle him, but roll him over, stop him from scoring and force him to knock the ball on in-goal.
Five minutes later Bulldogs were in through Phil Tonkin, his second for the day, and leading 20-5 after Kurt Weekes sailed another one over the crossbar.
Weekes was sent to the sin bin with around three minutes left in the game and Emus took full advantage scoring two tries in two minutes to close the margin to three points but ran out of time to add to their tally.
Emus captain Matt Campbell admitted his side’s slow start was their downfall.
“It was a really hard hit out. They’ve been the benchmark all year and we knew we had to go out hard but we sort of waited for them to come to us a little bit in that first half. We switched in on the second half but were just a little bit too late there,” Campbell said.
The first half was a see-sawing battle with the sides trading blows and neither able to break through for a five-pointer. Only the Bulldogs put points on the board thanks to Weekes kicking two penalty goals.
Berry said at half-time all the talk was about being tighter in attack.
“We weren’t playing to our structure,” Berry said.
“We’d get too excited when we got near their line and we were drifting away from what we should have been playing and that tore us apart a bit and gave away some opportunities to them.”
The chat worked as the Bulldogs added to their tally five minutes into the second half when fullback Tonkin dived over in the right corner and Weekes converted.
Emus replied shortly after when winger Cam Rasmussen scored to make it 13-5.
Bulldogs were looking good when Tonkin scored his second and his side led 20-5 with just over 10 minutes to go but Emus weren’t giving up.
When Weekes went to the bin, Emus took the quick tap and Mac Rutledge scored.
Moments later Louis Carr was in and Scott Hubbard converted but Emus still fell short.
Where Emus excelled was in the forwards. Their scrum was dominant and the line-out tight.
Campbell praised the bustling pack, especially second-rower Harry Hamilton.
“You look up and he’s everywhere and he’s taking the run that no one wants to take and he’s charging the ball down,” Campbell said.
Berry said the experience in his side stood out.
“There’s three guys – Phil Tonkin, Scott Johnston and Adam Bligh, they just added that composure and a lot of leadership,” Berry explained.
“They’ve played a few seasons before, a fair bit of first grade, so they really add a bit of composure. They knew when to kick and where to kick at the right time.”
BATHURST BULLDOGS 20 Phil Tonkin 2 tries; Kurt Weekes 2 conv, 2 pen goals) def ORANGE EMUS 17 (Cam Rasmussen, Mac Rutledge, Louis Carr tries; Scott Hubbard conv).