Central North Rugby: Pirates crowned champions again

Pirates completed an undefeated season for only the second time in the club’s history and claimed back to back to back premierships at Ken Chillingworth Oval on Saturday with a dramatic one-point win over Walcha.

The premiers had to weather an almighty challenge from the Rams, who had a kick to hit the front with just over two minutes to go after fullback Ed Churchill had crossed for his third try.

But Simon Newton was unable to repeat his earlier effort from a similar position leaving Pirates clinging to a 40-39 lead.

The Rams retained the ball from the kick-off but looking to conjure up a match-winner knocked-on.

With 10 seconds on the clock when they packed the scrum, Pirates captain Conrad Starr picked it up from the back and ran the ball into touch to seal a memorable victory for Pirates.

Pirates captain Conrad Starr on being crowned 2017 Central North champions

It was a contest befitting the occasion.

The two best teams all season going at it, it was fast, it was physical, it was see-sawing and it was tense to the final whistle.

And certainly not easy for the coaches, Pirates coach Mat Kelly describing a mix of relief and excitement after the match.

Blended into that was an immense pride.

Ed Churchill crosses for the first of his three tries. Photo: Peter Hardin

Ed Churchill crosses for the first of his three tries. Photo: Peter Hardin

“I always knew this group if they had two seconds on the clock they’d be able to do what they needed,” he said.

“There is no no quitting with these boys.”

“(But) Full credit to Walcha, they played fantastic.”

Like they did in the major semi, Walcha struck first with Newton giving them a 3-nil lead five minutes in.

Pirates hit straight back, Sam Collins scoring off a lineout drive.

The premiers’ bread and butter, they repeated the dose a couple of minutes later, Doug Biffin this time on the end of it.

Struggling early on in their previous two meetings against the Rams for the forward momentum that makes them so dangerous, Pirates were getting good traction through the middle.

Ben Goodman crashed over not long after and when Starr wrestled his way over to make it 26-6 with 12 to go in the first half things were pointing towards it being Pirates’ day.

Instead the two sides traded roles on the last two games, the Rams laying on two tries in about three minutes to fight back to trail just 26-20 at half-time.

Hooker Jock Fortescue scored the first from a set move after Pirates inside centre Brendan Rixon was yellow-carded fo r dangerous play.

Trytime: Hooker Jock Fortescue scores Walcha's first try. Photo: Peter Hardin

Trytime: Hooker Jock Fortescue scores Walcha's first try. Photo: Peter Hardin

Awarded a penalty from the kick-off, Walcha put it through the hands, inside centre Pat Keen delivering a beautifully-timed pass to hit Churchill steaming into the line.

Dangerous enough against 15, the Walcha backs were really starting to find their groove and minutes later Dom Bower sliced through only to be cut down by the Pirates cover defence just short of the line.

They were rewarded with a penalty, after the Rams were ruled to have held on, and were able to evade the threat.

Pirates extended their lead early in the second half, their scrum dominance leading to a penalty try, but the Rams hit straight back.

Churchill was again the man running onto a good inside ball from Newton as they shaped to spread to the left.

Starting to enjoy a bit more territory after holding Pirates out for about 15 phases, the Rams hit the front with just over 15 to go.

Putting it through the hands, Dom Bower finished and Newton added the extras from the sidelines to make it 34-33.

But Pirates didn’t panic and turned to their scrum to reclaim the lead, Starr bagging his second to push them to 40-34 with just over five minutes on the clock.

The Rams again though came back hard at them, and after earning a penalty spun it wide from a quick tap, and finding but Churchill.

Dejavu for Rams captain Will Fletcher after experiencing similar heart-break in 2012, he was understandably disappointed but proud of where they got to and the position they got themselves in.

Not many sides have been able to reel Pirates in from a lead like that.

Earlier the Pirates U19’s had prevailed 36-19 over Moree to get the day off to a good start.

It was the only of the three deciders the Bulls were in they missed out on with the U17’s getting up 39-15 over Tamworth and second grade hanging on for a 22-18 win over arch-rivals Narrabri.