Hardy Shield title holders Kildare had to dig deep before powering through the opening match of the schoolboys’ competition, defeating Wagga High 28-22 at Parramore Park on Tuesday.
“I think it was an awesome effort,” Kildare coach Andrew Morton said.
“Wagga High scored in the first set of six and people thought, ‘this is going to be grim,’ but we fought hard and ended up beating them.”
Wagga High playmaker Jordan Little scored the first try and Jack Flood converted, but the public school boys defended for the next 18 minutes, under continual pressure from Kildare.
Kildare five-eighth Jake Mascini made a break from halfway to score before one of just three returning players, Sam Heffernan, starred in their next try, and captain Austin Hay exploited the left wing, offloading to Liam Moon who scored in the corner.
Matt Knagge converted all three tries, and Kildare were up 18-6 by half time.
Wagga High coach Brent Merritt urged the boys to play to the referee’s rules after giving away a series of penalties.
“Take a mildly-high shot, he’ll penalise you, don’t release and he’ll penalise you,” he said.
“You can’t win a game when you defend for 80 per cent of it. Our attack’s good, but there’s only been tiny bursts of it.”
Wagga High showed more resistance in the second half, and made fewer errors.
Little made ground at fullback, and Matt Fellows lifted the team’s spirits as he scored between the posts, setting up Flood for the conversion.
However, Kildare maintained a comfortable lead.
You can’t win a game when you defend for 80 per cent of itWagga High coach Brent Merritt
Despite the strong start, Morton denied they’re shoo-ins for the shield.
“Wagga High’s a very good side, so they’ll get better,” he said.
“It’ll be a very good comp.”
Morton praised the efforts of Sam Heffernan, Matt Knagge and Jake Mascini on his return after a two-year spell, as well as young half back Liam Fitzsimmons.
“Liam’s only in Year 9, he tackled everything that moved,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, in Mount Austin’s comeback, the underdogs staged a thrilling performance in the second half to rival Kooringal High.
Kooringal led 20-0 at half time, and held onto the lead to win 20-18.
On the full time buzzer, Mount Austin’s Latrelle Siegwaldt fired a warning shot to rival teams.
Siegwaldt sprinted forward as his teammate kicked the ball, and as a Kooringal player dropped the catch, he scooped the ball up, palmed-off defenders and launched himself across the try-line.