The opening day of last weekend’s NSW Country Rugby Championship didn’t go to plan for Central West but, encouragingly, the Blue Bulls bounced back on day two and will remain in the top tier Caldwell Cup in 2018 as a result.
A year after winning the tier two Richardson Shield and earning promotion, Central West went to Port Macquarie confident of contending for this year’s major prize.
Then they met Newcastle-Hunter on Saturday’s opening day. The Novocastrians ran riot, winning 58-8 to qualify for the final while Central West was resigned to fighting it out with Central North to avoid relegation.
They won that fight though, producing the performance head coach Dean Oxley knew they were capable of and smashing Central North 48-3 to finish third.
“It was disappointing (on Saturday). We lost Filisione (Pauta) early on day one and that hurt, he brings composure to the backs. We were in the fight at 14-8, then Viliame (Turuva) was yellow carded. They scored 23 points while we were down to 14,” Oxley said.
“There’s no excuses though, Newcastle played some red-hot rugby and carved us up.
“Our performance on Sunday was much better, the standard of opposition was far lower than Saturday but we’d made it our goal to keep our place in the Caldwell Cup.
“We played some really good rugby on the second day, quick, attacking rugby. There was great link work and we scored some really nice tries. We didn’t really give Central North a chance, which was really pleasing.”
Oxley said, considering Central West’s last result in the Caldwell Cup in 2015, the side proved its place is in the top tier and confirmed he’ll throw his hat in the ring to coach the side in 2018 as well.
Despite the third finish, Oxley said he’s hoping a number of the Central West players will be named in the NSW Country Cockatoos squad when it’s named.
He highlighted Orange Emus’ Nick Hughes-Clapp, Tom Goolagong and Carter Hirini, along with Forbes’ Charlie French and Parkes’ Lloyd Rogers as some of the Blue Bulls’ best.