After 16 years on the outer, the mighty Nelson Bay rugby union club is one step closer to matching its triumphant 2002 season – the last time Gropers first grade qualified for a Newcastle Hunter Rugby Union preliminary final.
Playing against the highly fancied Wanderers at No. 2 Sportsground in Newcastle last Sunday, the Gropers found something special to finish with a 22-22 draw in the elimination semi-final match against Wanderers.
The Wanderers in fact had an opportunity to win the game after the bell but a conversion attempt went wide.
According to club president Ray Milton, the Gropers were the better team on the day and thoroughly deserved the day’s spoils.
“It would have been heartbreaking for our boys had that try after the bell been converted,” Milton said.
“The boys played their hearts out and were dominant for most of the match, despite the Wanderers second half fightback.
Nelson Bay started strongly with an early converted try and managed to maintain a 7-3 lead at the half-time break with a dominant forward pack.
The Wanderers went out in the second half full of fire and took the lead 8-7 with a try before Nelson Bay shot away with another seven pointer.
Neither side was willing to give an inch and the scoreline see-sawed for much of the second half until the Wanderers somehow touched down after the final bell to level the scores.
The conversion from midway between the posts and touchline never looked like going over, and the Gropers players and fans celebrated.
Best for the Bay is a whole-hearted team effort were hooker Dan Collins, half Charlie Fielder and fullback Chad Northcott.
Milton said that the Bay players every confidence going into their second consecutive qualifying semi-final this Sunday at the same venue against another fierce competitor, Maitland.
“Realistically we have every chance to progress,” he said. “The team under coach David Sharp is firing and when you scrummage well and your set plays are strong things can fall into place.”
Milton said that the club’s success was a result f good coaching, hard work and a strong junior contingent mixed with experience.
“We have prospered through the demise of the Waratah club, which has enabled us to bolster our stocks and strengthen our lower grades. It has been some time since the seconds went so well, and they were unlucky to go down in last Sunday’s elimination semi 18-17 to Maitland.”
The Gropers club is expecting another huge crowd of Bay supporters to make the trip to Newcastle’s No. 2 Sportsground for Sunday’s second elimination semi.