GROUP Nine club Junee missed the boat, but Group 20 counterpart Tullibigeal Lakes United rode a wave of success at the Kiama Nines tournament at the weekend.
In a head-turning performance, TLU surged into the Kiama Nines final at Kiama on Saturday, only to lose 14-6 to powerful The Entrance from the central coast.
Playing at picturesque Chittick Oval, the Sharks swept past Gymea Gorillas 12-10 in a semi-final before The Entrance ended their streak at the tournament.
In contrast, Junee, which was the only other Riverina team to enter the Kiama Nines, never left home, telling organisers the team was stranded by the floods.
Kiama rugby league secretary Steven Patterson yesterday reported the Diesels and Bathurst St Pats were the only teams from the 20 nominated that did not clock in for the Nines.
Speaking from Kiama, Patterson said the loss of two teams had not had a detrimental impact on the tournament.
“Even allowing for the wet weather, it was a terrific day,” Patterson said.
“There was a lot of water, but no mud.
“We were actually astounded the council let it (Nines) go ahead.”
Patterson said TLU had emerged as a “crowd favourite” at the tournament.
“They (TLU) were a real bush football team,” he said.
“They were here to have some fun and they also played it tough.
“I think the crowd was right behind them (in the final).”
With Junee pulling the plug on Friday, the Sharks were left to carry the flag for the Riverina – and made a slashing impact.
A week after making an impressive impact at the West Wyalong Knockout, TLU was defied by arguably the strongest team at the tournament.
Patterson said The Entrance is a team which plays in the Bundaberg Cup, a third tier competition on the NRL schedule.
“You can imagine, they’re a really strong team,” he said.
“It was a great effort by Tullibigeal Lakes United to make the final and be so competitive.”
Patterson said the Kiama Nines had attracted a cross-section of teams from Sydney, Canberra and country areas.
“We had Warilla and The Oaks play-off in the Plate Final and Tullibigeal and The Entrance in the main final,” he said.
“That’s a good spread of teams from different areas.”
Yet again, TLU has shown it could be the big improver in the Group 20 premiership in 2012, with dynamic fullback Jaden Kelly set to steer the team to a real shot at the title.