ALL the talk in the lead up to Saturday’s Western Division representative clash was about the size of the Group 10 forwards.
That talk was justified.
The powerful Group 10 packgot the better of their Group 11 rivals, justifying their selection to set the platform for a 32-24 win at Dubbo’s Caltex Park.
All five of Group 10’s starting forwards were selected in the Western Rams squad with man of the match Brent Seager from Bathurst Panthers and Mudgee Dragon Jack Afamasaga two of the standouts.
For most parts of the match it was a real arm wrestle with both sides enjoying periods of dominance but Graeme Osbourne’s Group 10 side showed more control when it mattered most with two late tries to seal the win.
“Everyone said it’s a big side but it’s a fit side and they’re competitive,” Osbourne said of his forwards after the match.
“I think we kept Group 11 in the game with the amount of mistakes we made, we completed 13 of 19 sets and when we completed the last seven sets in the first half we went 12 points in front.”
For Group 11 coach Darren Jackson it was a case of his side just slipping at the vital times.
“We came in with a simplified game plan and we stuck to it for 80 per cent of the game,” he said.
“They scored a couple of lucky tries through kicks so that was hard to defend against but I thought the sides were evenly matched and I’m happy with the effort and happy with the campaign.”
Group 11 started the match the better of the two sides and a break from the impressive Justin Toomey-White led to Kieran Shipp scoring in just the fifth minute.
Group 10 fullback Joe Lasagavibau crossed for the first of his two tries shortly after to level things up at 6-6 before Dubbo Macquarie’s Chris Daley got Group 11 back in front when he planted the ball down out wide.
Tries to Group 10’s Tim Bassmann and Arty Shead just before half-time gave their side the upper hand and the men in blue were right on top when livewire Lasagavibau went in again shortly after the break to make it 24-12.
But from there Group 11 lifted and halves Dennis Moran and Jacob Neill were heavily involved as tries to Parkes pair Evi Niako and Jordan Pope brought the scores level.
Five-eighth Ben McAlpine was heavily involved all match for Group 10 with his playmaking skills and near perfect goalkicking and his chip in the 67th minute led to Alofi Mataele scoring and then with five minutes remaining Corin Smith crashed over to seal the win.
The selectors gathered after the match and Group 10 was rewarded by dominating the Western squad while Group 11 pair Moran, who will also captain-coach the Rams side, and Neill were named in the halves alongside teammates Toomey-White, Daley, Jeremy Smith, Troy Hayman and Jyie Chapman.
“You’ve got to go on the boys’ performance today and make sure you pick the right squad to go away with and that’s a great squad, a physical side as well,” Moran said after the side was announced.
“Everyone went well today and there’s versatility as well, we’ve still got to cut one but at the end of the day you’ve got to pick the right guys in the right positions for the Country Championships.”
The Western squad meets for a training run at Manildra Sportsground on Wednesday before they begin their Country Championships campaign at Singleton on May 31 against the Northern Division Tigers.
GROUP 10 32 (Joe Lasagavibau 2, Tim Bassmann, Arty Shead, Alofi Mataele, Corin Smith tries, Ben McAlpine 4 goals) def GROUP 11 24 (Kieran Shipp, Chris Daley, Evi Niako, Jordan Pope tries, Jeremy Smith 4 goals).