Paul McDonald is the first to admit combinations in his Western side are taking time to click but two key changes in Saturday’s Laurie Daley Cup win over Riverina show the Rams are on the right track.
McDonald shifted 17-year-olds Brad Fearnley and Thomas Stimpson into the backrow ahead of the round two clash with the Bulls, the Bathurst Panther and Dubbo CYMS forwards starring in the 24-22 victory at Forbes.
The pack reshuffle gave the Rams coach more minutes in his backrow, which enabled a bench rotation that included Orange CYMS powerpack Tyrone Harrison.
Harrison’s impact and that of fellow replacements Nathan Swain, Aaron Mahwinney and Colby Peckham helped Western turn an early 10-0 deficit into a 12-10 lead at the break.
It was a lead Western never looked back from, too.
The two-point victory is Western’s first in the under 18s country championship, McDonald’s boys bouncing back from last week’s 18-all championship opener with Penrith.
McDonald said while improvement is steady at this point in the championship, it’s encouraging to see the team’s progress is positive.
“We made a late change to put Brad in the starting side and move Tyrone to the bench and he had more of an impact when he ran out,” McDonald said.
“I wouldn’t say combinations are perfect but what we’re seeing is encouraging.”
Riverina stormed out of the blocks to lead by 10 points after 15 minutes but when the tide turned and Western wrestled back the momentum from the Bulls’ big forwards, the hosts never relented.
Through tries to Fearnley, Mawhinney, Zarin Galea and last weekend’s two-try sensation Dennis Spathis, the Rams built a 24-16 lead before the visiting Bulls nabbed a consolation try right before full-time.
“I’m really pleased,” the Western mentor added.
“The standard is set now and we know what we’re capable of. If he hold that and improve we should be in every game.
“You can see they’re starting to gel. Proud of what they achieved (on Saturday).”
- WESTERN RAMS 24 (B Fearnley, D Spathis, A Mawhinney, Z Galea tries; B Naden 4 goals) def RIVERINA BULLS 22 (Z Vincent, M Lolohea, B Arandt, J Newling tries; L Siegwaldt 3 goals).