Gunnedah Red Devils have kicked off the 2023 Central North Rugby Union season in winning form following Saturday’s nail-biting triumph over the Walcha Rams.

Last season’s minor premiers began the new campaign in entertaining fashion when they crossed for a last-minute game-winner as winger Epeli Vulaserau went over on full-time and captain James Perrett kicked the conversion to break a 23-all deadlock and earn a 30-23 victory against Walcha Rams.

The Walcha men led 13-0 after 13 minutes before the hosts scored two converted tries to lead 14-13 at the break.

Three Perrett penalty goals in seven minutes made the score 23-13 in the Red Devils’ favour with nine minutes to play, but the Rams equalised with a 77th-minute penalty goal following a 73rd-minute converted try.

Vulaserau then went over for the late winner to earn his side the four competition points.

The Red Devils’ head coach Dan Martin told the Gunnedah Times that he was pleased with the result, but said that there was a lot to work to be done moving forward.

“It’s good to start the season with a win, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Martin said.

“We were scrappy and very disorganised.

“We played a very good opponent who was organised and who will win more games than they will lose this year, for sure.

“It was nice to go up against a hard team.

“We weren’t for the whole game the better team on the day, but we got away with the win, so we will move forward from there.”

Martin found both positives and negatives out of his team’s ability to fight back from a 13-point deficit in the first half, and then win the game despite a late Rams resurgence.

“I think it shows a bit more mental resilience in the players we’ve got,” he said.

“Was I happy that they jumped out to an early lead though? No, because that’s where some of our lapses were.

“We then switched off when we had a 10-point lead when we should have gone on with the job. That was a little bit disappointing as well.

“But I was happy with their application and that they did what they had to do to get the win.”

Martin said the most pleasing part of the win was his side’s ability to knuckle down and retain the ball and put itself back into a position to win the game after the Rams had not long equalised.

This season is Martin’s fourth as the head coach of the Gunnedah first XV and he has been part of the coaching setup for the past eight years.

He said that he enjoyed coaching the Red Devils, and that he believed that his men were definitely up for another trip to the finals in 2023.

“It’s just up to them how much they want it,” Martin said of the 2022 grand finalists.

In second grade, Gunnedah Red Devils enjoyed an emphatic 52-7 win over the Rams.

Richard Budd kicked off the try-fest in the 10th minute.

Sam Osborne followed that up with another try at 14 minutes, followed by Charlie Oates (26), Ashton Harris (34), Lincoln Stewart (40), Hamish Hockings (45), Matthew Hannay (64) and Stewart again (67).

Lachie Adamson was in fine form with six conversions throughout the season kick off.

Martin was pleased with the second grade side’s efforts, which he said highlighted that the club had pleasing depth that would keep everyone in first grade on their toes.

The Red Devils have now turned their attention to a trip to Scone this Saturday in round two.

They will take on the Brumbies in first and second grade and women’s 10s matches. The women’s side had a bye in round one.

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