Penrith bound Toby Evans bid farewell to Group 11 football in the best way by kicking his Spacemen to a 26-24 victory over Macquarie Raiders in sensational circumstances at Pioneer Oval in front of his home crowd yesterday.
The Raiders were denied the Dubbo RSL Club premiership in the worst possible way. They led 24-20 with three minutes remaining, but Parkes scored in the corner and Evans converted with a kick into the wind from the sideline for the clincher.
What a season the Forbes Redbend College halfback has had.
He and Parkes teammate Sam Coster were members of the New South Wales Combined Catholic Colleges team at the Australian Schools championships and both helped steer Western Rams to victory in the Country Under-18 titles.
Yesterday he saved his best for last and what a classic performance it was.
As you would expect he was a bundle of nerves as he lined up the match winner with the siren having already sounded. If he missed it was into extra time.
“This is as good as it gets, my best moment in football,” Evans said.“Realising what the conversion would mean, I was really nervous lining it up, but as soon as I struck it I knew it was good.
“Obviously I’m looking forward to going to Penrith next year but I don’t think there was a better way to finish here with Parkes and with my mates. It’s been great.”
Group 11’s decision to play under-18s as the main game before first grade paid handsome dividends yesterday as the cream of their junior nursery was on the big stage, and no one was disappointed.
The lead changed hands several times throughout the 60 minutes and Parkes led 20-14 after tries from Jake Dooley, Andrew Bourke, Chad Porter and Jake O’Brien while Chad Porter booted two goals in windy conditions.
But the Raiders didn’t give in at any stage and hit back with tries of their own from Josh Ferguson, Corey Cox and Leroy Toomey, while Cox was successful with one of his kicks.
This then set the stage for the second half and as expected it went right down to the wire.
Thirteen minutes in second-rower Hayden Chapman scored for the Raiders and with Cox’s successful kick it was back to even stevens at 20-all.
Chances came and went for both sides until the creative Cox scored just three minutes from ful-time and it was thought that the game was over for all money, despite Cox missing the conversion from a not too difficult position. At the same time Parkes fullback Jake Dooley was sent to the sinbin for dissent.
But the best was still to come. Parkes came up with a short kick off into the wind, regathered and then on the back of successive penalties Evans gave the last pass to Jack Creith who scored in the corner.
The home crowd was in raptures and so were the young Spacemen but it needed a successful conversion to get them over the line.
Evans decided to take the kick himself instead of Chad Porter and the decision paid off as the ball sailed between the sticks for the two point win. While most of the young Macquarie Raiders were visibly distressed, coach Matt Sutcliffe said it all.
“I’m shattered and I really feel for the boys,” he said.
“They fought so hard today and all season, but just when we thought we had it in the bag, things turned around in the worst possible way.
“I don’t think it was complacency that got to them at the finish (when they hit the front), I think we underestimated the quality of Parkes. They just kept coming at us and they’re a good side as they proved the last two times when we’ve met them in the finals and now they’ve won both times.
“Looking back there are some fine young players in our side, most of them will be going up to seniors next year and I’d like to think they will be pushing for first grade.”
Both sides yesterday were full of quality players with Evans, and lock Sam Coster - who earlier won the Dubbo RSL Group 11 Under-18 Player of the Year award - two of their best, along with captain and fullback Jake Dooley.
In the Raiders’ side Corey Cox, prop James McKinnon and interchange hooker Kane Ralph had big games.