Lower Mid North Coast Rugby Union season sets sail for the semi-finals in pandemic-shortened season

 All smiles: Oliver Pascoe has been impressive for Wauchope Thunder this season.
All smiles: Oliver Pascoe has been impressive for Wauchope Thunder this season.

The brevity of the Lower Mid North Coast Rugby Union's pandemic-strangled competition is hammered home with every passing round of the 10-round minor premiership.

But the fascination continues to grow with less than two months before the semi-finals kick off.

Three clubs are vying for the men's prized minor premiership, all level on 12 points on the eve of the fourth round, the Manning River Ratz, the Wauchope Thunder and the Wallamba Bulls.

Wauchope are in their third winter of the Lower MNC competition and although unbeaten this season, their courage and will-to-win in upsetting the Bulls was a stirring spectacle.

Club president, Paddy Bowen, was at pains to downplay the claims of the Thunder, suggesting they were a combination "thrown together" with ex-rugby league players and "retired" Wauchope rugby players boosting their numbers.

But one stand-out he mentioned was one of his smallest - open-side flanker Oliver Pascoe, a "little bull-pit terrier" of a forward.

Likewise, the player most responsible for the downfall of the Wallamba Bulls was Wauchope's midfield general, Stephen Blair, who assembled his back line into a smooth-functioning, cohesive group and then made the intercept for the game-winning try.

Although the Bulls were beaten, they are the team who warrant favouritism, marginally ahead of the Ratz, who have lost their captain and No 8 stalwart, Sam Hartnett, for the season with a knee injury without requiring major surgery.

Wallamba are developing one of the most formidable back row combinations in NSW Country rugby, led by the Welsh open-side flanker Tom Homer and sturdy No 8, Ash Rushby, with the powerful Islander duo of Tongan, "Hau" Honema'u, and Fijian Atu Katonitabua, coming off the bench.

In addition, coach Peter White has an outstanding young breakaway revelling in the gruelling trade in Luke Martin.

In a clash of the competition favourites, Wallamba are at home at Aub Ferris Field, Nabiac, to the Ratz tomorrow while the Old Bar Clams are seeking their first win of the competition against the Barbarian Hogs.

Wauchope travel to Gloucester in the ranges tomorrow, "always tough opponents - we're expecting a battle," as club president Bowen put it.

It remains to be seen whether the Cockies field the strong side anticipated with players reportedly having been recruited from Singleton and surrounding clubs.

Gloucester and the Wallamba Bulls' women's 10-a-side teams lead their competition with two wins and 10 points from as many games with Wauchope a close third on nine points.

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