ORANGE High School prevailed in a battle of the forward packs in Friday’s Astley Cup rugby league clash with Bathurst High.
In conditions more conducive to making mud pies, the hosts’ monster forward pack, led by Western Rams under-18 front rower Max Wolfson, won the war of attrition up front to secure a nervy 28-22 win.
“It’s a fantastic result,” Orange High coach Anthony Wharton said.
“We had a big lead up to this game and it went right down to the wire. Bathurst’s comeback at the end was concerning, but my boys played very well to get over the line.”
Converted tries to Bathurst’s Kurt Norton and Orange High’s Cameron Wensley inside the first five minutes had the vocal crowd set for a high-scoring game, before the wet conditions began to control the play.
Orange High hooker Jordan Baker burrowed over in the 17th minute, giving his team a 10-6 lead after fullback Jedd Kennedy missed the conversion.
Bathurst fired back through centre Tom Olson on the stroke of half-time, with Norton kicking the sideline conversion to give his side a 12-10 lead at the break.
Four converted tries in the opening 15 minutes of the second period to Orange High stars Maxwell, McKenzie and Kyle Robbins, and Bathurst’s Jarrod Seager, had the match poised tentatively at 28-18 before a suspected neck injury to Bathurst second rower Josh Sargent threatened to have the game called off early.
Play resumed after Sargent was taken to Orange Hospital via ambulance, with Bathurst halfback Brayden Bennett diving over in the corner.
The try went unconverted, leaving the score at 28-22, and Bathurst was unable to capitalise further on its late dominance as the score remained unchanged.
The match doubled as the western region’s University Shield final, with the win securing Orange High a place in the final 16 in the state.
“The result didn’t matter for the Astley Cup tie,” Wharton explained.
“But it was important to finish strong, and now we’re in the state quarter-finals.”
Bathurst coach Des Crawford credited the hosts and said Sargent was expected to make a full recovery.
“Orange played well, I expect them to give Dubbo (Senior College) and the rest of the state a good shake in the next few weeks. On Josh, he was responding, and was taken to hospital as a precaution,” he said.
“It’s suspected whiplash, maybe a bit of twisted neck, but he is expected to make a full recovery pretty quickly.”
ORANGE HIGH 28 (Cameron Wensley, Jordan Baker, Glen Maxwell, Kyle Robbins, Deryne McKenzie tries; Toby Westcott 3, Jedd Kennedy conversions) def BATHURST HIGH 22 (Kurt Norton, Tom Olson, Jarrod Seager, Brayden Bennett tries; Norton 3 conversions)