NSW Country Championships: Central West’s Caldwell Cup redemption seals stunning double

By Matt Findlay

Central West secured their Caldwell Cup redemption at Tamworth’s Scully Park on Sunday afternoon, hammering reigning champions Illawarra to flip last year’s decider result and seal NSW Country Rugby Union’s most-coveted prize.

The Blue Bulls, who were forced to send out an 11th hour call to arms after a litany of injuries in the week leading up the championships, were utterly dominant in the decider, shooting to a 31-nil lead and eventually winning 45-21.

The Blue Bulls stamped their authority immediately with former NSW Country Cockatoo Filisione Pauta’s third-minute try and never looked troubled after that.

Pauta scored again on the stroke of half-time after Joe Nash, Mahe Fangupo and Lachie Harris had all crossed the stripe too, by then the writing was well and truly on the wall.

“It was just absolutely clinical in that first half,” Central West skipper and former Randwick gun Mark Baldwin said after the win.

“There wasn’t too errors and we held the ball. It was an excellent half of footy. There was not much you could fault and it was a lot of fun to be a part of.

“A lot of boys have been trying to win this for many years so there was a lot of joy there. I can’t speak highly enough of this group. I’ve been a part of a lot of teams and it’s so enjoyable to be a part of one like this.

“They’re good blokes, there’s no egos and we’ve come from all over the Central West.”

Central West had won through to the final by taking down Mid North Coast 32-17 on the back of a Harris double, while Illawarra were forced onto the hard road by the promoted Central Coast.

The Coasties, last year’s Richardson Shield champions, pushed Illawarra all the way, the reigning champions eventually winning 21-17 in a brutal clash that clearly took its toll physically.

The victory was Central West’s first Caldwell Cup triumph since 2014 when the region pulled off a senior men’s and colts double.

Incredibly Baldwin’s troops’ victory secured Central West another double on Sunday, after the Blue Bulls’ women’s side romped to an undefeated championship win in which they didn’t concede a point.

Led by player-of-the-tournament LillyAnn Mason-Spice, who celebrated her birthday on Saturday’s opening day, and fellow speedsters Nicole Schneider and Milika Tuinakauvadra, Central West thrashed Central Coast 31-nil in the decider.

Despite being down to 14 midway through the game and then 13 in the dying stages, all thanks to high-tackle yellow cards, the Blue Bulls’ women held.

Newcastle-Hunter once again claimed Rowlands Cup glory, the Novocastrians securing their second straight colts title before Far North Coast sealed the Richardson Shield and with it promotion to next year’s Caldwell Cup.