The Cootamundra Bulldogs had a disappointing result last weekend as they lost 18-4 against the Crookwell Green Devils in the first round of the George Tooke Shield finals.

The Bulldogs started on the back foot with the Devils scoring through the middle of the field only three minutes in.

Although the struggle continued for the next 20 minutes with the Devils having majority of the ball on the Bulldogs line, the Bulldogs held strong.

The defence of the Bulldogs finally let in points about 30 minutes in when star fullback for the Bulldogs, Daniel Maher, made a try-saving tackle from a Devils line break. Laying on the Devils player for too long, Maher got sin-binned for a professional foul and the Devils took the penalty goal attempt.

Impressed by his team’s 20 minutes of defence, club stalwart and trainer Ned Miller said, “it was a credit to our defence. Crookwell found it a bit hard to get through us after that initial try so they took two points. I mean it still put them up eight-nil but it was a bit of credit to our defence that they opted to take the goal.”

Scoring again soon after, the Devils extended their lead to 12-0 due to a long cut-out ball to the winger.

Having a stint of possession before the half, the Bulldogs crashed the Devils line for 10 minutes with no success.

With the deficit at the half, Ned explained, “with it 12-0 at half-time we weren’t too disappointed with what the score was given that they had most of the ball and certainly most of the field position in the first half.

“There was one end of the field that was a lot muddier than the other and that’s where we were coming out of in the first. The message at half-time was, we’ve got to do to them what they did to us, pin them down in their back end. It’s just our guys were run off their feet and it was a pretty heavy track.”

After the half, the Bulldogs were berating the Devils line but were unable to find a way through. A great kick from the Devils mixed with hesitation from the outside backs of the Bulldogs saw the Devils score a long-distance try.

With the score at 18-0 and time running out, a try from Bulldogs prop Hayden Cowled was not enough. Cowled broke the line 15 metres out with 90 seconds left in the game, bumping the fullback off on his way to the try line.

Issues for the Bulldogs came from the fact that, “we couldn’t find a way to break their defence. They were tying in off the ball really well which just means they were covering their inside man. So, credit to their defence, it’s probably the best defence we’ve come across in this competition”, according to Ned Miller.

These results see the second-place Devils go through to the major semi-final against the minor premiers Bungendore Tigers and the third-place Bulldogs now face the Harden Hawks at home this weekend in an elimination final.

The past games between the Bulldogs and the Hawks have always been interesting with the season tally being one all. The Hawks won the first matchup of their season in Harden 24-16, and the Bulldogs won the next meeting in Cootamundra 22-10.

The Bulldogs will have to look to their strike man Jordyn Ballard, who is the best running half in the league due to his nine tries and 44 points for the season.

The biggest try-scoring threat from the Hawks that Coota will be looking out for is the electric fullback speedster Austin Power, who has scored 11 tries in his 13 games this season.

After the loss, the Bulldogs and Ned look to next week’s elimination final saying, “we’re confident that if we can roll Harden and then get another crack at Crookwell, we will go to Bungendore with a good chance. I know the guys are going to be very keen for this weekend. As soon as the disappointment of the Crookwell game was over in the sheds our minds turned towards what we’re going to do this weekend against Harden.”

The Cootamundra Bulldogs play the Harden Hawks in an elimination final at Les Boyd Oval at Fisher Park at 3pm on Saturday.

Ed Dodds