Will Wardle has been one of the Parkes Spacemen's best throughout the 2023 Peter McDonald Premiership and his importance was highlighted again on Sunday.
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Wardle shone during Parkes' elimination semi-final win over Wellington on Sunday and scored one of his side's seven tries, but it was a number of smaller moments which were crucial.
It was one of his tackles which forced a Wellington error inside the first five minutes and from the ensuing set Parkes scored the first try which sparked an avalanche of early points.
The Spacemen raced out to a 22-0 by the 30-minute mark, with Wardle scoring one and setting up another for Sam Dwyer with a brilliant one-handed offload.
The Cowboys rallied and got back within eight points early in the second half, but yet again Wardle changed the momentum.
Another of his tackles forced a mistake and yet again the Spacemen took the opportunity and a Jim Dabea try helped make it 28-14.
Even when it looked like Parkes were home in the final 10 minutes, Wardle raced from the other side of the field to scoop up the ball after Wellington winger Timmy Boney-Stewart and kicked ahead for himself.
"He's one of those blokes that comes up with big players," Sam Dwyer, another of Parkes' best in the 36-26 win, said.
"A couple of tackles forced errors and then that kick at the end, there was about four or five Wello boys around and one Parkes bloke but that was him coming across from the other side of the field.
"That epitomises the type of player he is and the type of bloke he is. He'd do anything for you and he's a champion bloke."
The Wardle-Dwyer combination will be vital to Parkes' hopes on Sunday when the Spacemen travel to Dubbo to take on CYMS in a preliminary final.
Having only rejoined the Spacemen mid-season after making the move to Wollongong, Dwyer missed his side's hugely impressive 40-28 win at Pioneer Oval earlier in the year.
In the reserve fixture, Dwyer scored but CYMS was far too strong and ran out 38-12 winners.
The amount of points conceded that day was a concern and it was the case again on Sunday as the Cowboys were able to wrestle back momentum at times and ultimately score six tries of their own.
"We've got to be a fair bit better," captain-coach Chad Porter said on Sunday, looking towards the CYMS game.
The first 30 minutes on Sunday showcased what the Spacemen were capable of, with the pace around the ruck, lethal left edge, and Dwyer's support play all proving too much for the Cowboys.
If they can sustain that kind of effort, Porter has no doubt his side can go beyond Sunday and into a grand final against either Mudgee or Orange Hawks.
"I reckon we got the team to win it if we put our best foot forward and play good footy," he said.
"I think we can match with anyone."
Parkes has a bit of a nervy build-up to Sunday with both Cody Crisp and Rex Yallon put on report during the win over Wellington while Brandon Paige exited the match in the first half due to a rib complaint while Jake Porter, Brandon Tago and Dabea were all noticeably hobbling at full-time.
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