By Steve Spinks
A TRY in the final minutes by reserve Jack Finch secured Western Plains a 22-17 victory in the first round of the NSW Country Rugby Union Championships over a gutsy Far North Coast at the Byron Recreational Fields on Saturday. The Dolphins led for the entire match except when it counted with Finch making the locals pay for a handling mistake only a few metres from their own try line. It was a heavy price to pay for FNC who deserved the victory against their more fancied rivals. "It's very disappointing," coach Karl Lupton said. "I think we played a good game, but little mistakes cost us." The Dolphins, running with the advantage of a strong southerly in the first half, led 14-0 at the break courtesy of tries to centre Harry Witt and halfback Scott Lancaster. However, Lupton knew then his side would struggle to win. "I think that was the killer," he said. "I knew we probably had to lead by at least 21 in the first half to win." FNC was held up twice in the first 40 minutes and dominated the exchanges to such an extent a 25 point lead was attainable. However, to their credit, Western Plains hung in with some stout defence and fought their way back into the game. The Dolphins' lead was cut to 14-5 early in the second-half after a rolling maul from a lineout saw prop Jed Cullen score. A penalty by winger James Wivell pushed the locals out to a 17-5 lead but Luke McConochie hit straight back with a penalty of his own to put the score at 17-8. Another rolling maul from a lineout saw second-rower Sinclair Steele crash over for a converted try and all of a sudden the Plainsmen were on a roll at 17-15. During this time the locals again found their way over the try line twice only to be held up. On one occasion, fullback Ben Damen made a great sideline dash only to be held up by an opponent's head as he placed the ball while being wrestled onto his back. It was that kind of day for the Dolphins! Scything breaks by Witt and Wivell were also not converted by the locals. After Finch scored the match-winner the Dolphins had a couple of late chances to hit back but loose passes and poor handling saw the Plainsmen escape with the victory. Central Coast referee Tony Furey also did the locals no favour with a liberal interpretation of the breakdown which allowed Western Plains to slow the ball down. Players off their feet killed the ball and unfortunately much of the spectacle. The FNC forward pack was outstanding with hooker Joey Mohammed, flankers Shaun Makings and Liam Preston all having big games. Witt, centre Brendan Brooke and five-eight Luke Watling shone in the backs. FNC head to Armidale this weekend to take on New England in the second round of the Richardson Shield after New England demolished Mid North Coast 60-0 at Port Macquarie on Saturday. The Richardson Shield is the second tier competition in the NSW Country Championships. Results WESTERN PLAINS 22 (Jed Cullen, Sinclair Steele, Jack Finch tries; Luke McConochie 2 conversions, penalty goal) d FAR NORTH COAST 17 (Harry Witt, Scott Lancaster tries; James Wivell 2 conversions, penalty goal). Half-time: FNC 14-0. Referee: Tony Furey (Central Coast). Macadamia Cup PRESIDENTS XV 15 (Ash Mareroa 2, Afa Sauia tries) d COMBINED VILLAGE 0. Caldwell Cup: Central Coast 20 d Illawarra 17; Newcastle Hunter 28 d Central West 8. Table: Newcastle Hunter 4, Central Coast 4, Illawarra 1, Central West 0 Richardson Shield: New England 60 d Mid North Coast 0; Western Plains 22 d Far North Coast 17. Table: New England 5, Western Plains 4, Far North Coast 1, Mid North Coast 0. Under-19s: Illawarra 52 d Central Coast 5; New England 27 d Mid North Coast 0; Newcastle Hunter 32 d Central West 0. Table: Illawarra 5, Newcastle Hunter 5, New England 5, Mid North Coast 0, Central West 0, Central Coast 0.