NORTH Tamworth Bears remain the only unbeaten side in the Group 4 first grade competition after overcoming a spirited and below-strength Gunnedah Bulldogs 42-28 in their top-of-the-table clash in Gunnedah on Saturday night.
The two sides had gone into the clash under lights at Kitchener Park with four wins from four games and, early on, it looked like the Bears might overrun the battered Bulldogs when they led 24-4.
However the young and inexperienced Bulldogs fought back to trail 24-22 at halftime before the Bears gained the ascendancy in the second half.
However it might have been different but for one controversial call.
Down by two points, three Bulldogs looked to have created a try but were called back for a forward pass.
“It was a crucial call,” Bulldog coach Shane Rampling said.
“It was a 12-point turn- around. Instead of us leading they scored in the next set of six.”
The Bulldogs had entered the game missing at least half a dozen of their first grade side and again showed they will be a threat when they are back to full strength and healthy.
“It was tough game, very physical,” Rampling added.
“I was really pleased with the way our boys stood up.
“We got behind early and were down by 20 points early.
“ But with 15 to go in that first half they fought back to trail 24-22 at the break.
“We went into the sheds with confidence and we knew North would come out and bash us out of the second half.
“My boys never gave up. We had two of our forwards play just 15 and 20 minutes as well through injury and were down to 15 men.
“But that’s no excuse.
“Norths are a good side and we made too many errors and silly mistakes.
“Norths deserved to win but we can also take a lot of confidence out of that.
“Thank god we’ve got a bye next weekend.”
Rampling thought halfback Matt Brady was brilliant and dangerous when he took the line on.
Prop Andrew Seach also worked hard throughout, five-eighth Adam Mooney, playing out of position, had a big game and skipper Trent Hilton also gave his all.
North coach Brad McManus was delighted with his side’s effort.
“We had a perfect start,” McManus said.
“But we got a bit sloppy at the back end of the first half.
“It was a very physical game though but then we expected that, being a top-of-the-table clash.”
He thought his side did well to turn around a poor ending to the first half.
“Gunnedah made us earn it tonight,” he said after the game.
“We’re just happy to come out on top.”
Shane Wadwell was outstanding for the Bears, the big backrower having a hand in almost all the Bear tries.
Leading 24-22, he put young fullback Callum Hayne under the posts for the try to break the Bulldog backs.
Centres Brad Marshall and Zac Russ also caused plenty of problems on either side of the field, Marshall racing across for three tries.
‘This is a team full of character,” McManus said of his talented squad.