By SARAH STEWART
After suffering their first loss of the 2023 season, it was a return to ‘business as usual’ at the Gunnedah Red Devils camp this week.
The Devils first grade were humbled by Walcha in last week’s fixture – their first of the year – but vowed to returning to their winning ways sooner rather than later.
That was achieved at the weekend with a strong home ground win against Scone.
The 2022 grand finalists made it a club treble with wins also forthcoming for the Devils in reserve grade and the women’s competition.
Gunnedah Red Devils hosted the Scone Brumbies at Gunnedah Rugby Park last weekend, showcasing their strength and ability as a club by winning all three grades.
In first grade, it may have been a slow start for the Gunnedah Red Devils men, but that certainly didn’t continue for long.
Coach Daniel Martin said the Brumbies’ wide running attack in the first 30 minutes put the Red Devils “under pressure”.
With some team adjustments and player feedback, Martin was able to “fix the defensive issues and turn them into points”.
An outstanding defensive effort from Marcus Hayne led to the first try of the game. Hayne tackled a Scone opponent in goal, giving Gunnedah a scrum 10m from their try line. The Red Devils dominated the scrum, pushing Scone backwards and allowing number 8, Nick Lyons, time to pick his moment before charging at the opposition and over the try line.
As the game progressed, the Red Devils were given possession of a scrum on the right side of the field. A well-executed block play by Cameron Mitchell and Marcus Hayne created space for James Perrett to exploit. Perrett demonstrated his agility, beating two opponents before delivering the ball to Epeli Vulaserau who outpaced the opposing fullback, to score spectacularly in the corner.
Returning to the first grade team this week, Marcus Hayne initially started on the wing before moving to fly-half position. The adjustment made by coach Martin proved to be a success as Hayne linked up flawlessly with halfback Dan Rourke and the outside backs, including brother Callum Hayne who is new to the Devils line-up this year.
As Marcus Hayne moved to fly-half, Emori Waqavulagu came off the bench and onto the wing. Yet another scrum was awarded to Gunnedah and quick distribution from Perrett gave Waqavulagu enough room to make a 40m dash at the line before having to offload the ball. Waqavulagu with another strong attempt, was halted just shy of the try line.
With the Scone defence scrambling to recover, Rourke delivered a three-man cut-out ball to Cameron Mitchell who scored the final try before half time.
Gunnedah’s forward pack continued to showcase its cohesion in set pieces when a lineout was awarded just shy of the 20m line. The Red Devils, in an outstanding demonstration of strength, pushed the opposition backwards the remaining length of the field, allowing the experience hooker, Mathew Hannay to charge over the line.
The momentum continued as Perrett successfully executed a kick and chase, grounding the ball in goal, before converting his own try and taking the score to 27-3.
Once again, the Perrett and Waqavulagu combination proved too good for the Brumbies and Waqavulagu, needing no room on the wing, showcased his speed to beat his opposition and extended the Red Devils’ lead.
Coach Daniel Martin acknowledged the challenges the team has faced in terms of injuries and illness, preventing them from fielding their strongest line-up. However, the substitute players who stepped up on Saturday proved their worth and further enhanced the Red Devils’ impressive scoreline.
One such player was Jack Kotris, who came off the bench to fill the number 8 position when Nick Lyons sustained an ankle injury. Taking advantage of an exceptional Red Devils scrum, Kotris powered his way over the tryline, again showcasing the strength and unity of Gunnedah’s forward pack.
A penalty try was also awarded for a professional foul occurring in a maul by a member of the Brumbies. The Red Devils finished the game with relentless attack from the forwards, giving Waqavulagu space to score in the corner just before full time.
In the reserve grade match, Hamish Hockings had the play of the day when he took a quick penalty tap after full time, beat several of the opposition on his own, to win the game 21 to 17.
The women’s team continue its undefeated streak in a very physical game against the Brumbies 24 to 5. Tries were scored by Madisan Rogers (2), Jess Baker and Steph Lennon. Conversions to Jess Baker and Kate O’Donnell.
Next week the Red Devils travel to Moree to play the Bulls in all three grades.To order photos from this page click here