Narrabri Rugby Club was represented by three teams in Walcha across four Central North Rugby Union qualifying finals on Saturday.
The first grade, under-19s and women’s sevens teams all challenged for a spot in their respective grand finals, with the first XV playing to host grand final day at Dangar Park.
However, all three were defeated and will have to qualify for the deciders in preliminary final matches this Saturday at home.
In the first grade game Narrabri and hosts Walcha were locked at 17-all at half-time following an entertaining opening 40 minutes.
But in the second stanza only three points were scored, all coming from the boot of Rams skipper Simon Newton which was the difference as the minor premiers held on to win 20-17.
In the first half of that game Walcha scored first but the Blue Boars hit back through skipper Matt McDonnell who scored a brilliant try to get his side on the board.
Walcha went over for two more tries, while Narrabri was able to keep up via the boot of Michael Cain.
Cain slotted four penalty goals including one from about 45 metres out right on half-time.
The under-19s fixture kicked off the day which saw the Narrabri boys take it right to the minor premiers Pirates in an 18-15 loss.
The Blue Boars actually outscored the Pirates three tries to two, but a conversion and two penalty goals were the difference for the top-ranked under-19s side.
In the women’s sevens game first-placed Gunnedah was too good for Narrabri, winning the game 34-12.
Narrabri’s April Smith scored a try either side of half-time, the second of which she converted, but the Gunnedah outfit was too good.
In the second grade match played on Saturday top-ranked side Pirates defeated second-placed Moree Bulls 25-19 after scoring a converted try in the last minute to overturn a one-point deficit.
Those results meant that Walcha (first grade), Pirates (second grade and under-19s) and Gunnedah (women’s sevens) all advanced to the September 14 grand final which will be hosted by Walcha at Peter Fenwicke Oval.
This weekend Narrabri will host the preliminary finals at Dangar Park, where the qualifying final losers take on the elimination final winners.
In first grade Narrabri will challenge Pirates, in second grade Moree meets Gunnedah, in under-19s the Blue Boars will host Barraba/Gwydir and in women’s sevens the Narrabri team will go head-to-head with Pirates.
The winners of those four games will advance to their respective grand finals.
On Saturday in Walcha the home side ran out to a standing ovation from a roaring crowd and it took that energy into the game as it opened the scoring in just the third minute.
An early kick forced Blue Boars fullback Cain to run the ball out over the sideline to relieve the visitors of the mounting pressure, then after the home side restarted play from the line out Lachlan Brown charged over from close range.
Newton converted to make the score 7-0.
The Blue Boars replied almost instantly and they did so in style.
The visitors pressured Walcha into kicking downfield after the restart and the Blue Boars mounted some pressure of their own.
In the seventh minute skipper McDonnell ran onto a pass from Jake Packer 15 metres out from the tryline and overcame five Rams defenders as he forced his way over to open the Narrabri side’s account.
Cain struck the left upright from the conversion attempt which kept Walcha ahead 7-5.
Cain had another crack at putting the Blue Boars ahead in the 13th minute when the visitors won a penalty 30 metres out from the posts and about five metres to the left of the left upright.
This time Cain made no mistake, nailing the kick to put Narrabri ahead 8-7.
But the Rams got themselves back in front in the 16th minute when Newton charged over into the left corner after the home side won possession in its attacking half at a Narrabri scrum.
Newton missed his conversion, unable to add to the 12-8 score line.
The Blue Boars almost regained the lead on the 20-minute mark when Daniel Kahl won a penalty 10 out from the line and took a quick tap before charging towards line in-goal area.
He made his way over but some desperate Walcha defence held him up.
Narrabri fed a scrum and attacked again but Walcha won possession and kicked downfield.
That saw the Blue Boars go on the attack again and this time the side won another penalty and decided to kick for goal.
Cain slotted the conversion to cut the home side’s lead to one point, making the score 12-11.
In the 28th minute Walcha fed a scrum deep inside its own half and a brilliant set piece play saw the home side fly down the other end of the field and cross through fullback Dominic Bower which made the score 17-11.
Newton could not add the extras from 10 metres in from the right sideline.
Narrabri made the score 17-14 in the 32nd minute when it won a penalty 25 metres out before Cain slotted his third penalty goal.
The Blue Boars looked set to go into half-time trailing 17-14, but they were able to even the score to 17-all after the siren had sounded when Cain knocked over his fourth penalty goal, this time from about 45 metres out.
The second half was a struggle for the Blue Boars as the hosts dominated field possession for the first 16 minutes.
However, Narrabri impressively held out Walcha for that entire period as the score remained 17-all with the hour mark approaching.
When the 60th minute arrived neither side had managed to edge ahead as both continued to defend with class.
The Blue Boars did not enter their attacking 22 with ball in hand in the second stanza until the 65th minute, but the visitors coughed up possession through a mistake and the threat was eliminated.
In the 70th minute Walcha hit the lead as a Newton penalty goal from a tricky angle out on the left edge made the score 20-17.
With five minutes to go the Blue Boars were attacking the Walcha line with intent, desperate to find the try to put them ahead.
However, the visitors conceded a penalty in the ruck which dealt a huge blow to Narrabri’s hopes.
The Blue Boars had possession of the ball in their own half with a minute remaining but knocked the ball on to cough up possession, but they won it back almost immediately when Walcha dropped the ball following the scrum.
In the final seconds of the match Narrabri conceded a penalty in the ruck and Walcha kicked the ball out from the restart to secure the 20-17 win and book its fourth consecutive grand final spot.