Deniliquin Drovers made a triumphant return to the Southern Inland Rugby Union (SIRU) competition on Saturday,
upsetting Young 24-22 in their second grade match.
Despite a slow start at Conolly Rugby Ground in Wagga Wagga, the locals rallied to prove they mean business in
Captain Jack Ellice-Flint scored in the last 90 seconds of the match to put the Drovers in front.
It was Deniliquin’s first match back in the Wagga-based competition since 2004, having spent the last eight years in
Coach Warwick Strong described the thrilling win as a “great effort”.
“We were asleep in the first half. It was almost like the boys were just waiting for something to happen,” he said.
“But to their credit, they came out firing in the second half and were able to hold on for the win.
“It was a great effort overall. It proved to the team that we can match it in the Wagga comp.”
Young showed plenty of class in the first half, running out to a 17-0 lead, before Drovers’ captain Ellice-Flint crossed
for the first of his two tries to keep his side in the match. Inside centre Todd Thocolich converted his skipper’s try to
see Deniliquin trail 17-7 at half time.
Some ‘encouraging’ words from coach Strong at the break seemed to have a positive effect on the locals.
Deni lifted its intensity in the second half, scoring the first two tries and snatching a slender 19-17 lead.
Outside centre Reed Jackson was first to cross in the second stanza, followed by new dad Mason Brown – the latter
converted by five-eighth Ellice-Flint.
Young hit back minutes later to lead 22-19, but Deni wasn’t finished just yet.
Not one to lay down, Ellice-Flint scored in the corner with just 90 seconds remaining to see his side kick off its season
in spectacular fashion.
“To be honest, there weren’t any exuberant celebrations or anything,” Strong said.
“We didn’t actually know our last try had put us in front.
“At the time I think the boys thought we were still trailing. It was just a big bonus at the end I guess; that ‘never say
die’ attitude really paid off.”
Hooker Bernard Schoeman claimed the three votes as Deni’s best on the day, followed by halfback Zac Tamati
(two) and Ellice-Flint (one). Tamati also snared the Players’ Player mug, while prop Te Aroha ‘T.A.’ Keremeta won
the ‘Dingo Award’ for his off-field antics.
“I was really happy with (second-rower) Tom Rose in the line-outs and (centre) Storm Tamati was solid when he
came on after half time,” Strong said.
“Young winger Kiennan Jones was also good in his first game for the club.”
The Drovers head to Albury this weekend to take on the Steamers. The match kicks off at 2.30pm at ‘Murrayfield’,
following a third grade clash between Albury and Junee.
Deniliquin will lose the experience of Scott Ison (away) this week, but will hopefully gain some size with the inclusion
of props Stuart Kent and Nathan Transton, as well as utility player Mario Jackson.
“Albury is usually very strong in the forwards,” Strong said.
“They’ve got three grades, so you can expect second grade to be a good, strong side – especially at home.”
Deni’s first home game will be against CSU Wagga at Memorial Park next week.