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Depleted Country Open Men side hang on in nail-biter

Country survived being a man down for the final 10 minutes of the game to hold off a fast-finishing City side 26-20 in the CABE Open Men’s championship at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium in Kogarah today.

It gave Country back-to-back wins after another close finish (36-34) last year.

This time they had to bring all the grit and grunt they could muster in the closing minutes of the match.

Country were reduced to 12 men in the 71st minute after fullback Cameron Anderson was sent to the sin-bin for holding down centre Tony Satini.

They then had to defend three sets on their line being a man down.

“That’s a Country win every day of the week,” coach Damien Quinn said.

“They were tough, they got pole-axed in the middle there, they were down on troops and they just kept turning up. I’m very proud of them.”

Country benefited from having the majority of their attacking spine – hooker Luke Huth, five-eighth Chad O’Donnell and halfback Samuel Clune – all from Newcastle Rebels, who won the Country Men’s Club Championship in Woy Woy five weeks ago.

O’Donnell can now add the Open Men’s Country-City Player of the Match award to his cabinet as well.  

“Luke’s the sort of player you want around your club, he’s that special – outstanding,” Quinn said.

Country hooker Luke Huth
Country hooker Luke Huth

“Chad was also great all week as captain and then on the field today he was everywhere supporting everyone. Then my blokes in the middle like Ben Stone, whose tackle technique is unreal, were great for us too.”

For City, they overcame a 20-4 half-time deficit to outscore Country three tries to one in the second half.

“We really didn’t give ourselves a chance the first half,” said City coach Brock Shepperd.

“In the second half we were better but every time we mounted some pressure we’d come up with an error, or give away a penalty. I just felt like we had the majority of possession in the second 40 (minutes).

“We were valiant and I was really proud of their effort.”

Country got to the front early scoring four tries to one before half-time.

Off the back of a penalty Country had City pinned down in their red zone. They then began swinging the ball in both directions before Clune put his second rower and fellow Newcastle Rebels teammate Levi Pascoe into a hole.

Country’s opposite side back rower No.12 Lincoln Smith scored their second try, which started with a nice off-load from bench forward Kyle Kennedy.

The third try for Country came when halfback Clune snuck a kick through the defensive line for Tom Warner to get his hands on first.

And the fourth of the first half was a beauty. O’Donnell put up a corner kick which winger James Bradley batted back perfectly for his centre Gary Anderson.

City’s only points in the opening 40 minutes came from left-edge winger Jake Tago accepting a cut-out pass from his fullback Curtis Wilson.

Momentum swung more City’s way early in the second half. A one-on-one steal by Benjamin Seufale got the men in blue-and-gold in good field position.

Then forward Denzal Tonise crashed over from dummy-half, Kamren Cryer converted, and City were back in the hunt (20-10).

They scored again through five-eighth Todd Sapienza to edge even closer (26-16).

Not long after, play was held up for a few minutes when Sapienza fell awkwardly in a tackle and grabbed his neck. After some on-field treatment, he left the field with trainers.

City remained on the attack for three sets but could not find a way through the stout Country defence.

Scorers: Country 26 (Levi Pascoe, Lincoln Smith, Tom Warner, Gary Anderson, Cameron Anderson tries; Chad O'Donnell 3 goals) def City 20 (Jake Tago, Denzal Tonise, Todd Sapienza, Alfred Smalley tries; Kamren Cryer 2 goals)

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