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Young has defended the Group 9 Challenge Cup, with the Cherrypickers finishing fast to knock over the Temora Dragons 38-24 at Alfred Oval on Sunday.

After winning the inaugural Challenge Cup in 2022, it was the first time Young had been asked to defend the title this season. In a match that doubled as a Round Four fixture, the Tricolours were made to work for the win.

Temora was the first to score, with the visitors able to capitalise on a penalty and a booming Josh McCrone touch-finder.

From close range, Hayden Lomax fired a cut-out pass to his right for Grant Hughes, who strolled over untouched to the right of the post. Hamish Starr converted, and Dragons led 6-0 after 13 minutes.

Temora kept the pressure on Young, with James Stewart splitting their defence from well within his half before zigging and zagging 50 metres upfield to put the Dragons on the attack.

After Lomax came close to scoring, Hamish Starr jumped into dummy-half, shaped to go left before putting the ball underneath for a rampaging Jock Ward, who crashed over to the left of the posts. Starr again converted, and Temora was up 12-nil after 18 minutes.

Young custodian Nic Hall then split Temora’s defence and sprinted half the field before being stopped short of the line. The Cherrypickers failed to make the most of the opportunity but received a second chance which Nick Cornish capitalised on after probing to his right before delivering a well-timed short ball for a bullocking Jonah Latu to score.

Thomas Demeio had no problem converting from in front, and Young trailed 12-6 after 27 minutes of play.

The Cherrypickers invited Temore back into the contest after making an error in the set after scoring. Lomax took advantage after setting up his second try, passing to big Luke Skidmore, who crashed over to the right of the posts from close range. Starr landed the conversion for a 18-6 lead after 30 minutes.

The Dragons looked the more likely of the two sides but the 2022 grand finalists wouldn’t be kept quiet, with the Tricolours finishing the first stanza with a flurry of points off the back of some Jacob Lucas magic.

The Cherrypickers halfback chipped behind Temora’s line, and the Steeden sat up nicely for him before he passed to Jahnayah Freeman, who then offloaded to Clay Sing. The Young second-rower sprinted to the line to score a very entertaining try two minutes before the break. Demeio slotted the conversion attempt to leave Young trailing 18-12.

Lucas stepped up again with the final play of the half, when he chipped again behind Temora’s line, and good mate Nic Hall got to the ball first, with the fullback toeing it ahead for himself, and he regathered and scored to the left of the posts. Demeio slotted the conversion from the sideline, and the scores were level at 18-all at half-time.

Temora started the second half strongly, but Young worked hard on their line, saving multiple try-scoring opportunities.

Young then had a golden opportunity to go ahead, with Cornish putting Latu into space, but the last pass went to ground, letting Temora off the hook. Young’s Troy Whiley was then sin-binned, with the bench forward drawing the ire of referee Ben Whitby.

Despite being a player down, the Cherrypickers scored next after Cornish was put Hall into open space, with a desperate Hamish Starr tackle stopping him just short.

Tyler Madden then held up Zane Bijorac, but the pressure finally told, after Lucas kicked to his left, and a leaping Aborosio Navori caught the ball to score a very classy try.

Demeio maintained his consistency with the boot, again slotting the conversion from the sideline, taking Young ahead 24-18 after 50 minutes.

Despite playing a man down, Young kept applying the pressure, with Demeio forcing a repeat set following a clever kick from dummy half. The pressure eventually got the better of Temora, with big man Zac Starr sin-binned for a high shot.

The Tricolours added a bit of breathing space to their lead, with Demeio potting an easy penalty conversion from in front to take Young ahead 26-18 after 57 minutes.

The Cherrypickers flashed home with a wet sail, and some Nic Hall magic took them further ahead. The crafty fullback darted back inside off his right foot twice before powering through for an excellent try to the right of the posts. Demeio made no mistake with the conversion attempt, and Young led 32-18 after 63 minutes of play.

The weight of possession and numbers told in the end, with Young scoring again late in the second half, with Sing strolling in for his second try on the left edge.

With Demeio off the field, Nic Hall took over kicking duties, and he made no mistake with the conversion attempt, taking the ‘Pickers ahead 38-18 after 74 minutes.

Temora hit back late, with Madden crossing on the left, and Hamish Starr potted the conversion from the sideline, but it was too late, with Young winning 38-24 at the finish.

In the remaining Group 9 Round Four matches played on Saturday, Tumut won the local derby, defeating Gundagai 32-14 at Anzac Park.

South City Bulls won under lights when knocking over Albury Thunder 16-12 at Harris Park.

Round Five draw (May 20): Temora Dragons v South City Bulls at Nixon Park, Tumut Blues v Young Cherrypickers at Twickenham Oval; May 21; Gundagai Tigers v Junee Diesels at Anzac Park.

Group 9 ladder: Young Cherrypickers 8, South City Bulls 6, Wagga Kangaroos 4, Temora Dragons 4, Tumut Blues 4, Albury Thunder 4, Junee Diesels 2, Gundagai Tigers 2.

Acknowledgement of Country

New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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