Country take opening Origin match
Story by: Wayne Martin - Nelsonmail - Photo by: Shaun Bowie/shuttersport
Country reaffirmed an evident power shift after drawing important first blood in yesterday's opening match of the ProRugby League Town-Country Origin series.
Country's 36-26 win over Town at Trafalgar Park, coming just one week after the Richmond Rabbits' Tasman Rugby League Bin Inn Cup club championship success, has signalled a significant shift in the power base after Town swept last year's series 3-0.
There's still plenty of life remaining in the series, with a further two matches giving Town every chance of redeeming themselves.
However, Country looked on target from the outset yesterday, surging to an early 16-0 lead before regrouping for a strong finish after a spirited Town rally.
Tries to winger Cam Arnold and to fullback Cam Salton, coupled with the accurate boot of standoff Hayden Smith, had Country well in control at the 25-minute mark as their big men Hoani Takao, Tamaio Piripi and Luke Samuels worked solidly for field position.
Arnold's opening try had been a gift, simply diving on unsecured ball behind Town's line, Salton benefiting from a slick Joe Collins offload and strong running by Lucas Bennett in the leadup to his try.
Town's fightback in the final 10 minutes of the half resulted in tries to lively hooker Troy Wilson, following a Jarrod Albert intercept, and again to standoff Freedom Walker, and eventually enabled Town to cut Country's lead to just 16-10 at the break.
But when big Town prop Loto Pilo showed some impressive strength to carry several defenders across in the corner just after the restart, Country were suddenly staring at a major momentum shift and a 16-all scoreline.
Country gradually began to restore some order through tries to rangy substitute forward Ngatote Samuels and to elusive centre Callum Smith, who used his pace to skirt the defence and help restore Country's lead at 26-16.
An accurate long pass put Town centre T J Beazley into space out wide to again narrow the margin to 26-20, ahead of further tries to Callum Smith and Hayden Smith as Country again stretched out to a decisive 36-20 lead.
Still Town refused to concede, fullback Jamein Bristowe displaying ample strength and determination near Country's line to break several tackles for the game's final try.
With only three minutes remaining on the clock, it was too late for Town to alter the game's inevitable course as Country eased to a deserved win.
Despite not being an original squad selection, Joe Yalayala filled in admirably in Town's front row as one of their key ball carriers before a first-half leg injury forced him from the field.
Country's ball runners generally proved more effective in promoting the ball, with the pace of Callum Smith and Bennett helping to sustain the pressure further out.
Collins provided excellent impact off Country's bench, his aggressive running and deft offloads helping to gain important yardage behind Town's defensive line.
Wilson was at the heart of Town's forward effort, while Pilo's obvious strength created problems for Country's defence. Bristowe also displayed his elusiveness with limited opportunities.
Country 36 (Callum Smith 2, Cam Arnold, Cam Salton, Ngatote Samuels, Hayden Smith tries, Hayden Smith 6 goals) Town 26 (Troy Wilson, Freedom Walker, Loto Pilo, T J Beazley, Jamein Bristowe tries, Symon Duncan 3 goals) Ht 16-10.