NARRABRI Blues were out on their feet in yesterday’s Group 4 minor semi-final at Scully Park but it was the West Lions who imploded for the Blues to post a 40-26 win against a Lions side which finished with nine men.
Playing on Scully Park for the last time, the Lions lost Matt Lillicrap and Phil Beaton to the sin bin, Beaton in the final 10 minutes before centres Sean Nean and Richard Kennedy were both sent off by referee James Brown in a stunning finish to the knockout semi.
West had led 16-12 at half- time, courtesy of a try by captain-coach Chris Hunt just before the break.
However Narrabri levelled up almost immediately when teenage backrower Sam Sadler picked up a dropped ball from West winger James Blackbourn and dived over.
Then Justin Knight scored the first of his two tries when his pass put centre Michael Skillicorn in the clear out wide.
When tackled, Skillicorn was able to offload when not held on the ground for Knight to regather and score.
West’s best, Phil Beaton, then edged the Lions within two with a determined short burst from dummy half to trail 22-20 but that was as close as the home side got.
Knight’s wide pass enabled Skillicorn to score his second try and then the lanky centre helped set up Jock Small and a 12-point lead.
However the Lions fought back as the Blues forwards tired and Jake McLoughlin scored a ridiculously easy try when he crashed though the Blues defence.
Trailing 32-26, the Lions had all the running but, instead of making the unfit Blues pay, they fell apart when Lillicrap was sin-binned for back-chatting.
Worse was to follow as first Beaton and then the two centres were walked.
Knight was able to score his second try after the string of penalties and then added a penalty goal in the stunning finish.
Hunt was left to lament a game that got away.
“It felt like we only had three sets in the second half,” he said.
“Some of the penalties were warranted but some weren’t.”
Especially a jolting hit by Nean a few minutes before he was marched.
“We’ve come a long way this year,” Hunt said.
“We were second at one stage. I’m really proud of the boys.”
Narrabri coach John Rumsby was disappointed with his side’s lack of ball control and the tired defence.
“We’ve got to play it simple and hold the ball because we aren’t fit enough,” Rumsby said
“We’re a long way off them (Norths and Gunnedah).
“We had a bit of luck today too – West coughed the ball up when we needed it.
“Our defence was terrible – that just comes down to condition.”
The Blues could have scored a lot more tries.
Skillicorn was over another three or four times but called back for forward passes or dropped balls.
Lock and skipper Lachlan Cameron had a huge game, taking one and two runs in each set of six.
Brandon Tago, Brendan Davey and Jake Rumsby made some big runs at different stages against a Lions side best served by Beaton, McLoughlin, Scott Rolls and Tom Hine.