Orange Emus emerged from Saturday’s Blowes Clothing Cup major semi-final showdown with Bathurst Bulldogs battered and bruised, but to a man the greens couldn’t have been happier about it.
The 2018 minor premiers look to be saving their best for the right time of the season, triumphing 28-19 over a physical Bulldogs outfit at Endeavour Oval.
Jack Marchinton scored a brace while Nick Hughes-Clapp and Tom Goolagong both crossed for the hosts as the Emus club secured its fifth straight first grade grand final appearance and fourth straight Blowes Clothing Cup grand final day at Endeavour Oval.
“That was one of the most physical games I’ve played, probably in my career,” Marchinton said.
“I’m coming off bruised and battered, a lot of the boys are the same, but we’ve got the two weeks off to recover and work hard and knuckle down.”
Marchinton said his side had a point to prove against a Bulldogs outfit many have waxed lyrical about in the lead-up to Saturday’s grand final qualifier.
While the Dogs had momentum, Emus had experience – and it counted for plenty.
“The last month, someone said in the paper that we’ve been inconsistent, but I think we showed today, for the majority of the game, that we’re real contenders and can take this thing away,” he added.
“Having a home grand final again means the world to us. It’s pretty challenging for others to come here and play.”
Having a home grand final again means the world to us.Orange Emus flanker Jack Marchinton.
Emus dominated the early running of the match and while camped in Bulldogs’ half came up with an early try to open the scoring.
In the ninth minute, the hosts went long with an attacking line-out and then rolled their maul towards the posts before Marchinton peeled off to score a really well-worked five-pointer.
Nigel Staniforth’s right boot added the extras, and the hosts were off to a perfect start.
Emus dominated possession thereafter but the Bulldogs defence held firm. It was as stoic as it was brutal, for the bulk of the 80 minutes, too.
Come the half-hour mark Bathurst looked to be turning the tide and enjoyed a string of rare phases in Emus’ half, but an error gifted Emus the ball and some clever kicking from Harry Cummins ultimately led to the flying winger pinging his opposite Will Oldham in the in-goal.
From the ensuring scrum, Emus raged forward and Tom Goolagong crossed for a converted try to bump the hosts’ advantage out to 14 points.
The Dogs hit back virtually straight away, though, with Harry Peacock crossing in the corner, before Josh Weekes iced the conversion attempt from the chalk to send his side into the sheds with the wind in their sails, although down 14-7.
That momentum lifted the Dogs eight minutes into the second stanza and, full of confidence, the blue and golds’ decision to knock back three points earlier paid dividends when Josh Oxley jumped over the ruck to score and level things up at 14-all.
In the blink of an eye, though, things changed.
Emus strung together some pretty average phases before centre Levi Russell picked up a loose ball and charged forward, poking his nose through before producing a deft off-load to send Marchinton over for his second of the major semi-final.
Five minutes later, the minor premiers produced some brilliant rugby, stringing together phase after phase after phase before Nick Hughes-Clapp spun his way out of a flimsy tackle near the posts to score Emus’ second try in five minutes.
Both were converted by Staniforth and the hosts led 28-14 on the hour – it proved a match-winning swing.
The Bulldogs have based their 2018 season on a massive scrum, tough defence and speed out wide.
Emus countered each of those strengths brilliantly on Saturday.
The greens pack was immense, Emus’ ball retention was terrific in the face of the Dogs’ swarming defensive line and, when the visitors turned to their speed men out wide, the minor premiers’ scramble was first class.
Scott Johnston scored in the final 10 minutes for the visitors, but the Dogs weren’t getting over the top of Emus at Endeavour Oval, extending the club’s run of outs in Orange.
The club hasn’t won a first grade game at Endeavour Oval since 2010.
“Emus countered us really well, they knew what we were going to do,” Bulldogs centre Harry Webber said.
“I think it was a good exhibition, there was just a few small moments where some big players stood up and we didn’t execute.
For many of the Bulldogs boys, it was their first taste of a major semi-final – but Webber said nerves, or inexperience, didn’t play a part.
“We trained well and we were keen to get into it. But credit to Emus, they showed us how to get it done,” he added.
“We’ll look to next week now … we’re very confident back at Bathurst. We’ve been aiming all year to get a win here, though, and hopefully we get another bite at the cherry in a couple of weeks.”
Marchinton was tremendous for the victors, as was skipper Nigel Staniforth and the Emus front-row of Matt Findlay, Goolagong, Nas Havealeta and Michael Graham, when he came on in the second period.
For the visitors, Peacock was outstanding on the side of the scrum.
- ORANGE EMUS 28 (Jack Marchinton 2, Tom Goolagong, Nick Hughes-Clapp tries; Nigel Staniforth 4 conv) def BATHURST BULLDOGS 19 (Harry Peacock, Scott Johnston, Josh Oxley tries; Josh Weekes 2 conv)