This wasn’t meant to be happening. The sight of barrel-chested, bald-headed Phil Beaton charging on to passes, nostrils flared and short legs pumping, was supposed to be consigned to history.
Yet there he was at Kootingal on a cold Saturday afternoon doing exactly that for Kootingal-Moonbi against Gunnedah, as the Roosters kept their unbeaten record and Gunnedah suffered their second loss of the season – the 38-16 scoreline a reflection of a dominate display from a side who shimmer with self-belief.
At the vanguard of a performance that Beaton believes was one of the Roosters’ best this season was the man himself, his two typically explosive close-range tries further proof that he made the right decision to come out of retirement after ending a long and distinguished senior career at the end of the 2016 season, when his side, West Lions, lost the grand final to North Tamworth in well-documented, infamous circumstances.
He was named man of the match on Saturday.
The 32-year-old is adamant this is his last year. And given that, he is operating with an elevated attitude to ensure he does everything he can to make his swansong a successful one, atoning for the past sin of not giving his all.
The man has matured. And him taking a hit-up is still one of the best Group 4 sights. “That [greater maturity] comes with age,” he said. “There were a few times early in me career that I felt that I could have put a little bit more into the game, and I’m disappointed in myself. But now it’s time to make up for that in me latter years.”
Beaton made his first-grade debut as a 16-year-old at Werris Creek early last decade, before leaving the club for West Lions. He returned to the Creek in 2012, and then returned to Wests. He won three first-grade premierships with Wests and a second-division title with the Magpies.
Watch him play and you know he wants one more premiership. “That’s why I’m here this year,” he said. “I think we can do it. We’ve got the right attitude. If we keep a level head, keep doing the simple things right in defence, we'll win more games than we’ll lose, I know that.”
Getting to this point, after having a year off, took a physical and mental toll on him. He was lured to off-season training sessions at the Roosters by his former Lions teammates (a host of them joined Kooty this season]. But he admitted that the experience almost broke him, and he still had to get fitter.
“It was hard, I’m telling you. It was hard,” the father of two said. “There were a few times this year, and a few fitness sessions, that I wanted to just throw it all in. But you get through that, and get a bit more mentally strong, and you’re right.
“This year will be it – win, lose or draw, whether we make the semis, make the grand final. Whatever it is, I just take each game as it comes. And, mate, I’m just happy to be playing again, that’s all. This is it.”
Kootingal mugged Gunnedah in the first half, pinning them on their tryline as the Roosters launched a barrage of attacking raids.
Beaton scored the first try of the match in the 12th minute, with Roosters five-eighth Jordan Sharpe crossing five minutes later after charging on to a pass from hooker Ryan Martin and racing about 15 metres to score next to the left upright. Halfback Sam Taylor converted both tries to make it 12-0
Gunnedah posted their first four-pointer in the 24th minute, when their best attacking phase of the match, to that point, ended with a slick right-side move close to the tryline, with centre Aaron Donnelly drawing a defender and firing the final pass that sent winger Blake McIlveen crashing over in the corner.
But that was as good as it got for Gunnedah, as Kooty, 30-20 winners over reigning four-time premiers North Tamworth at home in round two, put the press on again to have the Bulldogs glued to their tryline – the heavy cavalry too much to bear.
First, replacement forward Brodie Sowter posted the try of the match, conquering the attention of several defenders to score next to the left upright.
Another replacement forward, former Lions captain Chris Vidler, scored another strong close-range try after accepting what appeared to be a clever flick pass by Sharpe. Taylor converted, and it was 24-4 at the break.
In the 49th minutes, Vidler produced a play that matched Sowter’s resolve in scoring his try, when what looked like a certain try to fleet-footed Bulldogs No.1 Dylan Lake, as he raced down the right touchline from long range, ended when the imposing Vidler collared the lightly built flyer and brutally flung him into touch.
Almost immediately, Rooster fullback Mitch Doring hit lock Cameron McDonald with a short pass close to the Bulldogs’ tryline and McDonald crossed. Taylor’s conversion made it 30-4. Game over, effectively.
Kootingal-Moonbi 38 (P Beaton 2, A Smith, J Sharpe, C McDonald, C Vidler, B Sowter tries; S Taylor 5 goals) d Gunnedah 16 (B McIlveen 2, J Ford tries; DJ Smith 2 goals)