Defending premiers Orange City and the returning Narromine Gorillas both kicked off the revamped Central West Rugby Union Colts season in style on Friday night's blockbuster openers, although the Lions were forced to snatch a victory in the dying stages against the gallant Dubbo Rhinos.
While Narromine ran rampant in beating Orange Emus 45-5 at Endeavour Oval the Lions edged home by just three points over the fighting Rhinos at Pride Park, with a Nathan Swain try just two minutes from full-time proving the difference in the end.
The Rhinos had fought back from a 10-nil half-time deficit to lead 12-10 with next to nothing left on the clock, with Will Allen nailing a clutch sideline conversion with six to go to give his Rhinos a narrow lead.
But an intercept three phases after the kick-off game the Lions a chance, although they turned it over just metres from Dubbo's line too, which looked potentially the final nail in their coffin.
It wasn't, the clearing kick was charged down in goal and Swain dived on it to score a miraculous try, the Lions holding for the remaining to minutes to start their title defence with a win, albeit a far from convincing one.
"We'll take a round one win however we can get it, especially considering we had a depleted squad, we only had 14, we were down a winger," Orange City coach Matt Egan said.
"I was a bit nervous after [Allen] kicked that goal to put them in front with not long to go, looked to me like fatigue was really setting in for the boys at the back end but they stood up for each other, really hooked in and we got away with it in the end, even if we were probably a bit lucky."
Rhinos' return didn't actually get off the greatest off starts, with a misjudged tackle off the initial kick-off leaving Dallas Towney-Elemes in the sin-bin no more than five seconds into the contest.
Orange City shot to a 10-nil lead as a result through unconverted Tye Pollack and Sam Barton tries but with the wind at their backs Rhinos roared back into the contest in the second period.
Dubbo winger Rhys Martin scored his first not long into the second half before producing an opportunistic strip on halfway, turning and racing away to dive over in the corner for his second six minutes from full-time.
Allen duly nailed the sideline conversion and it looked as though Dubbo may cause massive, round one upset from there, but it wasn't to be.
Dubbo coach Craig Giffin admitted the result wasn't ideal for his Rhinos, also returning to the competition after a number of years without a colts side, but considering they pushed the defending premiers and, arguably, probably should've got the result, it bodes well.
"We're really pleased with that game, the boys played really well. Both sides did actually considering it was the first game of the season, so credit to both teams," Rhinos coach Craig Giffin said.
"Congratulations to Orange City there they just outplayed us in a few key areas but it was a good, tight game and played in the right spirit, so it's good to get the season under way."
Swain was particularly impressive for the Lions while Martin and Allen were Rhinos' best, and Giffin also said the clash is an early indication of how the Dubbo side will approach the competition this year.
Although it was somewhat born from a lack of familiarity and cohesion, with constant encouragement from the sideline they fell into a run-first plan in the second half and it bore dividends.
"We do like to play an open style of rugby and to be fair, the boys haven't really trained that much together before tonight so rather than risking too many set-pieces we thought we'd try and keep it hand a bit, run it a bit more and try to play some good, attacking rugby," Giffin said.
At Endeavour Oval Narromine were simply too good for the greens. A huge chuck of the Gorillas group were a part of the last two under-17 premiership wins - they beat Emus in last year's decider - and it showed, the visitors displaying cohesion rarely seen this early in the season.
That inspired the six-tries-to-one victory, with six different try-scorers crossing the stripe.
- ORANGE CITY LIONS 15 (Nathan Swain, Tye Pollack, Sam Barton tries) def DUBBO RHINOS 12 (Rhys Martin 2 tries; Will Allen conversion)
- NARROMINE GORILLAS 40 (Sam Green, John Corderoy, Jacob Taylor, Angus Bodium, Carlos Nykolyn, Eric Dayes tries; Alex Heap 5 conversions) def ORANGE EMUS 5 (Kyran Ah-See try)
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