NSW Country Eagles ‘gutted’ after missing NRC finals

Mitch Short collides with Sam Lane NRCER1535 - Karen Watson Photography

After securing a bonus point victory over the North Harbour Rays in Bathurst on Saturday afternoon, the NSW Country Eagles thought they had done enough to book a spot in the NRC finals.

Awaiting the result of the Melbourne Rising and Sydney Stars game, the squad came together to watch the match, knowing that anything but a losing bonus point to the Sydney Stars was enough to keep their season alive.

But sometimes, the footy gods just aren’t with you.

Trailing 18-10 at halftime, the Stars held on to claim a crucial losing bonus point to secure fourth position and a finals spot, in the competition’s first ever scoreless second half.

“It was heartbreaking on all fronts. We all sat down and watched the game together and it was like watching a car crash in slow motion, particularly that second half,” Eagles coach Darren Coleman said.

“There were five potential outcomes from that match and the only one that we didn’t want was a tight win to Melbourne and that’s exactly what happened.

“It was gut wrenching.”

After letting halftime leads slip against QLD Country and Melbourne earlier in the year, the result meant the Eagles fell just one competition point shy of their second straight finals appearance.

However Coleman didn’t think those losses were to blame, instead pointing to the Eagles inability to put the Stars away back in round four as the result that truly cost them.

“I said at the time when we were up in Tamworth, that that result might cost us. We were up by two tries and let them in for a try late in the game, so instead of picking up a bonus point we gave them one and it was a two point swing.”

Although NSW Country failed to replicate their form from 2014, where they finished the regular season in second, Coleman said he thought his side was peaking at the right end of the season.

“The most frustrating thing is that I think we had some good momentum. We played well against Perth, were competitive against Melbourne, then produced one of our better attacking performances against the Rays to run in seven tries. “

“We had some good players coming back, our bench was strong, we had two props due back this week, so it really felt like we were building nicely and were in a position to give the playoffs a good crack.”

Despite their premature finish, the coach said there were still plenty of positives to take from 2015, including the form of flyhalf Jono Lance.

“He had an outstanding season Jono, he was a pleasure to work with. We fought off a couple of other teams to get him this year and he was probably our best recruit over the two years,” Coleman said.

“He was our captain, he led the side well, his goal kicking was exceptional and his defence was brilliant. Based on NRC form, he could find himself starting at No.10 for a few of the Super franchises.”

Coleman also credited young Randwick stars Sam Figg, Mitch Short and Mark Baldwin in their breakout seasons.

“I’ve become a big fan of Sam Figg, he contributes in so many areas of the game, his aerial skills in securing set piece ball are great, he’s always up there with the leading tacklers and his support play is good so he was outstanding.

“Mitch Short was another that stood up, he got his chance through injuries around him and he came in and made the halfback position his own,” he said.

Still coming to terms with the weekend’s events, Coleman said he’d eventually look back on the season in a positive light.

“Missing the playoffs is a real kick in the teeth, but it was still a good season.

“I know when we go to recruit for next year, it’s easy to say that we are now 6-0 against the other NSW teams so that gives us confidence in what we are doing and plenty of confidence going forward.”