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Heavyweights can’t be split in Group 9 season opener

It was a thrilling opening weekend to the 2024 Group 9 competition with the South City Bulls snatching an unlikely 28-all draw with the Young Cherrypickers in the game of the round at Alfred Oval.

Played in front of a boisterous crowd, the Cherrypickers had their tails up early with new captain-coach Tom Giles making a statement.

A barnstorming front rower, Giles, along with Aaron Slater and Jayke Hogan had the home side on the front foot as they won the territory battle.

Against the run of play, an error compounded by a penalty had the Bulls on the attack, and it was a magical first try.

Bulls coach Cleveland McGhie delivered a classy flick pass to Jesse Fitzhenry, who cruised over for a try on the right edge.

Kyle McCarthy missed the difficult conversion attempt, and the Bulls led 4-0 after seven minutes.

Then Young scored as Giles charged over from close range to the left of the posts. Tom Demeio slotted the conversion, and the Cherrypickers pushed ahead 6-4.

The Tricolours maintained the pressure and nearly scored again, with a towering Demeio kick caught by a high-flying Boro Navori.

Try as he might, the flying Fijian was held up over the line after some desperate Bulls cover defence arrived in time.

South City started to get some good go-forward via Rhys Weldon, Tim Hurst, and Mitch Bennett. The Bulls pestered Young’s line for three consecutive sets of six and eventually cracked it when McCarthy grubbered for himself.

South City’s inspirational captain was able to stretch out and ground the ball.

Following his successful conversion, McCarthy put the Bulls 10-6 after 21 minutes.   

From close to the line, Giles again bulldozed his way over for a second try, and with Demeio converting, the Cherrypickers led 12-10.

South City had a chance to respond after forcing a repeat set but couldn’t convert, and then the Bulls shot themselves in the foot by giving away repeat sets of six.

Young made the visitors pay, and they swung the ball right for Jack Bush, who strolled over untouched inside the right touchline.

Demeio missed the conversion attempt, but the Tricolours moved ahead 16-10.

Against the run of play, McGhie read a lofted pass and made a telling interception before sprinting 80 metres to score the game-levelling try under the posts.

McCarthy converted, and the scores were locked at 16-all as the siren sounded for halftime.

Young gave away a penalty early so McCarthy potted the conversion from the right of the uprights, giving his side the 18-16 lead.

With fatigue setting in, penalties and mistakes crept into the contest, and it was Young who found themselves in prime attacking territory.

Again, it was the Cherrypickers' big men who did the hard work.

Giles charged into the line before getting an offload to Corcoran, who found big Jake Walker. Walker burrowed over to score a good, tough try.

Demeio converted from to the right of the sticks, and Young went ahead again to lead 22-18 after 53 minutes.

After an hour of play, Young was winning the territory battle and appeared to have put the result to bed.

After a Crossfield kick from Demeio, a determined effort saw Jake Kambos knock the ball back to Lachlan Gale, who then passed to Jahnayhah Freeman, and the big centre strolled over on the left edge.

Demeio made no mistake with the conversion attempt, and Young led 28-18 after 61 minutes.

The Bulls then forced a repeat set, and following another error by Young, South City took full advantage when McGhie put Fitzhenry over for his second try on the right edge.

McCarthy missed the tricky conversion attempt and with 10 minutes left on the clock, the Cherrypickers led 28-22.

In a thrilling finish, the Bulls sent the ball deep into Young’s half before forcing an error.

The ball was shifted off the ensuing scrum to McGhie, who powered through Young’s defensive line before scoring under the post. A successful conversion and it was 28-all at the 75-minute mark.

Try as they might in the final five minutes, the scoreline didn’t shift for either side.

In other Group 9 games, the 2023 Grand Final rematch saw the Wagga Kangaroos enact some revenge, defeating the Tumut Blues 34-6 at McDonald’s Park.

Jake Dooley was a standout at fullback, crossing for a double, while the talented Jacob Mascini also crossed twice in the big win.

A Will Herring double inspired the Gundagai Tigers to a 20-18 come-from-behind win over the Albury Thunder at Greenfield Park.

Temora made their intentions known, with the Dragons proving too good for the new-look Junee Diesels, winning 38-20 at Laurie Daley Oval.

New recruit and former Leeton captain-coach Hayden Philp led from the front, as did former Junee junior and new Dragons’ playmaker Will McDermott. 

Click here for Group 9 draws and results. (Photo above: HW Photography)

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