By Sarah Stewart

Gunnedah Red Devils held their first home game of the season on Saturday at Gunnedah Rugby Park as the Devils took on the Tamworth Pirates.

Despite showing dominance and holding the lead until the 78th minute, the Red Devils First Grade team were beaten on the bell going down to Pirates 28-22.

The previous day’s rain and muddy conditions did not hold off the crowd and the club had approximately 500 people in attendance to watch the first round of the Central North competition.

The beginning half of the First Grade game was a tough physical contest. The Pirates looked like it would score the first try and relentlessly attacked the Devils try line, until Gunnedah’s debuting prop Ben Hampasum’s tackling prowess caused a Pirate’s dropped ball and a shift in game momentum.

The Devils began attacking with force but despite being so close to the try line, the Pirates defence was just as strong and thwarted Gunnedah’s attempts to run over the line. Persistence paid off for the Devils and its opponent’s defence buckled with a penalty being awarded to the Devils, in front of the posts. Leo Mortimer, Gunnedah’s debuting fly-half, converted the penalty kick and put Gunnedah in the lead.

As the game approached the half-time bell, the Pirates were put under defensive pressure to hold the Devils forward pack from charging over the line. With the Devils’ attack being matched by strong Pirate defence in the middle, Leo Mortimer showcased his expertise by putting in a chip kick to the corner with Ray Spradbrow beating the opposition out wide, to score the first try of the game and take the Devils into half time with a 10-0 advantage.

Leo Mortimer, Gunnedah’s debuting fly-half, kicks downfield for the Red Devils at the weekend. Photos: Sarah Stewart

The low scoring first half was no indication of what was to follow, with a total of six tries to come in the second half.

The Devils started strong and it did not take long before second rower Ratu Vuibau showcased his strength by charging through the defence to score. Mortimer once again converted the try.

With a 17-0 lead, the Devils urgency seemed to ease. The Pirates recognised this, fought back, gained momentum and scored two tries.

The Devils rose to the challenge with the forward pack working hard in the middle to create just enough space out wide for Junior Nasilivata to step and run through several opposing players to score in the corner at the 60 minute mark.

The next 20 minutes had the crowd erupting with cheers with anticipation. Tamworth found a gap in the Devils tiring defence and scored once more taking the score to 22-21 with the Red Devils still clinging to their lead. In a battle to the final bell, the Devils held their line and held back the Pirates’ relentless attack.

Their perseverance paid off when a penalty was awarded in their favour. With the clock ticking down in the final minute of the game and the Devils precariously holding onto a one-point lead, they opted to kick for touch, earning themselves a line-out. Five meters from the try line, Pirates recognised the final opportunity and won the line-out and despite scrambling Gunnedah defence, Pirates scored on the bell to seal the game victory.

In the Reserve Grade game, Ray Spradbrow was one of the standouts throughout the game and scored the only try for the Red Devils. The Red Devils lost to Pirates 34-5.

The Gunnedah Red Devil women were the only Gunnedah team victorious on Saturday. The three tries for Gunnedah were scored by Madisan Rogers, Sarah Stewart and Peta Lawrence, with Lawrence converting her own try.

Layne Scheithe. Photos: Sarah Stewart

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