The Gunnedah Bulldogs overcame a dogged Dungowan second-half challenge to score two late second half tries and secure a 46-26 win at the Dungowan Recreation Ground on Sunday.
The Cowboys had fought their way back into the game throughout the first half to trail 22-16 at the major break and then levelled up at 22-all when Josh Steel raced 75m to score his third try after taking an intercept.
That didn’t last long as the Bulldogs crossed for two more tries by Hayden and David Smith to lead 34-22 before Shaun Ferguson’s grubber kick enabled centre Ethan Collins to touch down.
Both sides then traded chances and dropped balls before Gunnedah hooker Callum Hayne’s great pass sent Matt Brady racing away to score. Four minutes later and an inside pass sent fullback Dylan Lake sprinting clear to score and a 46-26 win after David Smith landed his seventh conversion.
There was plenty to like from both sides as well as a lot of missed chances and silly mistakes as well.
Both coaches believe their respective outfits have plenty of improvement.
“We were pretty ordinary,” said Gunnedah coach Sean Hayne.
“[We] went away from the game plan and lacked a bit of intensity. They [Dungowan] played well and took their chances. We went a bit sideways too but have a few players to come back.”
Bulldogs second-rower Jordy Ford won his side’s players player award with a strong game backed up by some good work from David Jason Smith, Ben Gardner, Matt Brady and little hooker Callum Hayne.
Dungowan captain-coach Lochie Collins said his side dropped too much ball and made an array of critical errors at various stages.
“Not a bad effort though for our first game against a strong first division side,” the Cowboys leader said.
“We’ve got a few out too – the Manicaros brothers and Mark Macauley.
“Josh Steel had a great game [while] Nathan McGuire was having his first game back for two years and was outstanding.”
Centres Ethan Collins and Jack Rumsby also impressed, Matt Wilson was returning from injury and Shaun Ferguson had some big moments, none better than his 38th minute try.
Ferguson received a horror, bouncing pass at his ankles 10m out from the Gunnedah line, tried to trap it with his feet and then in a moment of inspiration toed it forward through the defenders and won the race to the ball.
It took the Cowboys to halftime down 22-16.
“Ferg was outstanding,” Collins said. “We’d be lost without him.”
They would also be lost without Collins’ 80-minute game. He made big runs and pulled off crucial tackles towards the end of the clash.
Gunnedah five-eighth David Smith received the three points in the North West Farm Machinery AGCO Best and Fairest, with Shaun Ferguson snaring two points and Bulldogs prop Ben Gardner getting one point.