It wasn’t pretty, far from it really, but Saturday’s 14-12 victory over a gallant Penrith Panthers was the ideal start to Western’s 2019 Johns Cup campaign.
Highlighted by a stunning try in the north-west corner of Lithgow’s Tony Luchetti Sportsground from lanky South Dubbo winger Brandan Hamilton, the Rams under 16s scored three tries to two in the opening round of this year’s country championship but very nearly let victory slip at the death.
Trailing 14-6 deep into the second period, Penrith scored with six minutes left on the clock through Uaale Elisara to edge within two points and had a full set-of-six on Western’s line inside the final 60 second.
The young Panthers threw everything at Western’s goal-line defence in an effort to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, only for the last play of the game to break down.
@WesternRams skip their lead out to eight at the break following a lovely effort from @StJohnsDubboJRL fullback Braye Porter, scoring in the corner.— Nick McGrath (@nickmcgrath4) February 16, 2019
Other than a streaky effort from Penrith flier Gosche, the hosts have looked in control at Lithgow
Next points crucial #JohnsCuppic.twitter.com/3q2eeDB9VU
It was heart-in-mouth stuff for Rams coach Tony Woolnough.
“It was a nail-biter,” Woolnough grinned
“But the guys stuck in there and come up with the goods.
“If you can hold off Penrith that gives you confidence. Our plan was to play quick and we did that.”
Quick the Rams were, particularly in the opening throws of the match and St John’s Dubbo centre Zac Williams opened the scoring for Western in the 13th minute.
... as we get further into the comp and combinations build, we’ll get betterWestern under 16s coach Tony Woolnough
Penrith hit back quickly thanks to a stunning solo effort from fullback Ezra Gosche and led the contest 6-4 for a short period before Hamilton made his mark on the opening round.
Given the ball with the Rams on the attack, Hamilton used his tall frame to perfection in a brilliant, full-length dive to finish an impressive Western play in the corner.
Dubbo-based fullback Braye Porter scored shortly after to boot the hosts out to a 14-6 lead and Western threatened to blow that margin out further, but it didn’t eventuate.
The young Rams had a multitude of chances to score more points in the second-half but the last pass didn’t stick, while Matthew Noakes was held up over the line and skipper Finnley Neilson spilled the ball while attempting to score, too.
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Given that lack of polish and the fact his side was still able to come away from round one unscathed, Woolnough was understandably happy with the result.
“It’ll come,” Woolnough said looking at this side’s combinations.
“We only just got our game together last week at Burrendong during the camp, and that was our first ball work.
“I think we were rushing a bit at times and panicking but as we get further into the comp and combinations build, we’ll get better.”
Panthers assistant Michael Ross said the 2019 Johns Cup would be a massive learning curve for what is a Penrith under 15s development side.
“It’s a very good experience, the whole concept of us coming here and playing a year up is for their development and a game like this is fantastic for that,” he enthused.
- WESTERN RAMS 14 (Braye Porter, Brandan Hamilton, Zac Williams tries; Matthew Noakes goal) def PENRITH PANTHERS 12 (Ezra Gosche, Uaale Elisara tries; Tylor Bunting 2 goals)