Magpies dealt a cruel blow
By Tony White
IN one of the best rugby league games this season, a try in the dying minutes to Casino centre Dave Ellis proved a cruel finale to Lower Clarence Magpies' aspirations at Yamba Sports Complex yesterday.
Ellis's 77th minute try, his second of the tense match, surged the Cougars to a thrilling 26-24 win against the gallant, injury-ravaged Magpies.
It was a crackerjack, tough, high-pace encounter that had everything, a real war of attrition, including much angst from the Magpies fans over several contentious rulings from referee Peter O'Connor.
The Cougars were awarded eight second half penalties to the Magpies four and while Lower captain-coach Jason Wilkinson refrained from taking O'Connor to task, he did say after the game: "I can't believe we were that undisciplined."
The Magpies deserve the highest praise for their gutsy effort, but the Cougars were equally impressive with their never say die attitude, climbing off the floor to record a memorable win in near darkness.
Lower suffered badly with injuries, losing lock Dan Cowling, centre Dave Purcell and new recruit Dallas Waters, who suffered a badly dislocated shoulder in the 67th minute. Waters was in great pain and officials were forced to call for an ambulance, which delayed the match for more than 20 minutes.
At that stage the Magpies were leading 24-22, but worse was to come when replacement prop Daine Laurie went off injured soon after, leaving the Magpies with only 12 men. They had no replacements left to fill the void, before Laurie returned with less than five minutes left.
Early in the second half fullback Grant Brown was sin-binned for 10 minutes.
The Magpies led 20-10 at half-time thanks to some brilliant team tries ? a double to flying winger Ben McDonald, Ryan Binge and Wilkinson.
Cougars five-eighth Garry Roberts, who had an outstanding match, led the fightback scoring six minutes into the second stanza. Centre Ellis scored the first of his double after 53 minutes and Casino clawed back to a 22-20 lead.
After Casino were penalised in a play the ball incident when they had the ball, Wilkinson somehow forced his way over to put the Magpies back ahead 24-20 in the 70th minute.
The final 10 minutes had fans on the edge of their seats with Casino gaining the upper hand through weight of numbers.
"What can I say," despondent Magpies coach Wilkinson said after the game, "that was heart-breaking.
"We just had no players left in the end but again we had that 20-minute drop off period after leading 20-10.
"One thing I will say is since I've been at this club, I've learned we never give up. The blokes had their backs to the wall but they dug in and gave it everything. I'm proud of them."