LIGHTNING Ridge will now have three sides in action on Barwon Darling Rugby League Grand Final day in Bourke this weekend after their Under 15s girls and boys teams progressed through their Preliminary Finals on the weekend in Goodooga, joining the club’s women’s League Tag in their title decider.
In total, Brewarrina will be in action in all three junior grades, with Walgett filling out the other remaining spot in the Under 18s Grand Final after they were too strong against Ridge on Saturday; the Dragons’ women’s League Tag side also having qualified to take on Ridge.
It promises to be a big day for all three clubs.
“All our young boys are keen, they’ve got good support from their coaches as well as the senior team,” Brewarrina club official Rebekah Gordon said.
“It’s a big day for all of them, we have a couple of buses that the NSW Rugby League have provided to take them all down along with their families, we’ve made banners and things so we are really keen.
“The 15s boys seemed pretty calm at the club barbecue this week which is something we do every year. They are just keen for a game of footy – both the boys teams know they have very talented line-ups and their best footy is good enough to win.
“The Under 15s girls, they are very, very, talented and it would be special if we could win the first ever competition in that age group.
“I think with their youth and their talent if we could win maybe we could hold that trophy for a few years, but the Ridge put in a really good performance in their Semi-final.”
Indeed, If the likes of Pam Abel and Tilah Ciprian have been the benchmark in the women’s competition since its inception, it looks like Ridge might have found a contender from the next generation after Chantelle Wallace scored FIVE tries in the Redbacks’ 40-8 win over Bourke in the Under 15s girls’ Preliminary Final.
It was a stunning display and there was never any doubt over who would claim Player of the Match honours. Mattie-Lee Seaton was also strong for Ridge as was Rashada Smith for the young Warriors girls and Tiona Gibbs who scored both of Bourke’s tries.
“Chantaelle was unreal in that game, the girls had a game plan and it all just started to happen for them,” Ridge President Daniel Kennedy said.
“She has been on the rise since the first game she played for them.
“All the kids’ teams have been unbelievable in general.”
Brewarrina will start as deserved favourites in the Grand Final but a similar display from Ridge would make for a classic decider.
In the under 18s Walgett were looking for a spot against the Golden Googars and they were never really expected to be headed by an undermanned opponent who ran onto the field with just six players.
Incredibly, Ridge led 12-0 at half-time before the natural fatigue factor set-in and Walgett found their range and ran out 28-12 winners, getting a couple of tries from their playmaker Quinton Kennedy.
“That group of boys just went out there switched on from the start and didn’t get sucked into any talk of anything, they were very focused and I don’t think people could believe the score line at half-time,” Kennedy said.
“They just ran out of puff, I think with two to three more players they could have won but we were very proud of them all the same.”
The boys’ Under 15s match was a one-sided affair as this time Ridge were on the other side of a numbers mismatch, defeating Bourke 44-10.
The Warriors fielded eight players in a brave display. They managed a couple of tries but the Redbacks were too strong, running in nine tries to earn a shot at the Brewarrina side who claimed the Minor Premiership at the end of the regular season.
Kennedy, the coach of the Under 15s, is confident they can get the job done against the Googars on Saturday.
“They played a very strong game on the weekend, we looked towards a bit of a different game plan for that game and it worked for us,” he said.
“If we can be that good again, I think we can give Brewarrina a good shake.”
The one constant for Lightning Ridge year after year is their women’s team.
Kennedy is hopeful that if they along with the junior sides continue to compete as they have done this season, it may lead to a re-entry of a Redbacks men’s side, especially given how Goodooga have fared this year in their return.
“The women’s team is so strong – Tilah is the little general, she knows the game,” he said.
“Until you watch it, it’s hard to believe how good she is compared to her size, she’s so tiny but has the knowledge and the skill and just runs the side perfectly.
“We try every year to spark some interest in a men’s team, we get a few yeses but then when training comes we get low numbers – it is fingers crossed for now, we have a few 18s boys that are pushing up into senior footy so it would be nice to get there next year.”