Top: Oscar Roberts, Aaron Byrne, Charlie Tucker, David Buttriss, Aaron Basham. Bottom: James Reimer, Brad Walsh, Jordyn Ballard, Tom Miller, James Smith, Scott Roberts. Photo: Supplied.

With the Cootamundra Bulldogs opting to sit out the 2020 Group 9 Rugby League season after three months of pre-season training, cousins Jordyn Ballard and Tom Miller decided to take it upon themselves to keep the playing group together by forming a cricket side to take part in the BFB/Blooms Chemist Division Two competition.

This is played under the banner of the South West Slopes Cricket Association.

What was only supposed to be a way of mates being able to socialise together to pass the final few months of the year soon became a weekend obsession, a couple of quality inclusions from outside the Rugby League playing group and a bit of early success having the Bulldogs cricketing squad eager for more.

Having not tasted defeat in 2021 at all, the Bulldogs have needed to do things the hard way through the finals series, with two abandoned matches due to weather in rounds three and four against the bottom two teams.

This cost the Dogs a chance of maximum points and a forfeit in the closing round leading in to Christmas meaning they failed to receive the losing bonus points during that round.

Finishing fourth, it meant an away game and sudden death battle against Stockinbingal was the first hurdle to be cleared, Bulldogs scraping in with a nine-run victory.

This meant the Bulldogs were then to take on minor premiers from Young, the Criterion Hotel Gunners, the following week, again at the opposition’s home ground.

After restricting the Gunners to 113 on a batter friendly oval, a sensible run chase with genuine value for pure cricketing shots would be enough to see the Bulldogs progress through to this week’s Grand Final quite comfortably.

A lot of nervous faces sat amongst the League side’s camp as they lost their first wicket for just two, their second after 16 runs and third while on just 32, thus bringing the side’s most experienced player to the crease, Scott Roberts.

Time and time again this season, Roberts has dug his adopted side out of trouble and there were plenty of fingers, toes, arms & eyes crossed, hoping he could come through yet again.

In a pleasant surprise to all at the ground, Roberts had to settle for second fiddle as James Reimer, who had scored only 27 runs in his 10 games prior to Saturday, became the hero his side needed, withstanding the pressure of the new ball and teammates falling early around him to finish with 55 off 77 balls.

Earlier in the day, Ballard bowled without luck to finish with 2-23(8 overs), while Roberts showed his class capturing 2-10(6.4), while Tom Miller claimed a big wicket with his second ball of his first spell, going on to finish with the figures of 2-18(7).

This week’s task for the Bulldogs gets no easier, taking on Temora Ex-Services Renegades at Nixon Park, Temora.

The Renegades are the only side the Bulldogs have not yet tasted success against, Renegades captain Adam Swanston proving himself as the danger man, scoring 34 and 76 in his two visits to the crease against the Dogs, both of which occasions he remained unbeaten.

The responsibility of the new ball will be placed on Jordyn Ballard’s shoulders, Ballard one of, if not the, quickest bowler in the Division Two competition, and with consistent cricket under his belt has shown he is a class above most of those around him.

Charlie Tucker or Joe Ward will occupy the opposite end early and will need to support Ballard with accurate bowling to keep the pressure on the Renegades top order.

Scott Roberts, David Buttriss, Tom Miller and Luke Levett will more than likely bowl the remaining overs between them, while Oscar Roberts and Brad Walsh may also be called upon depending on the momentum of the game.

Whether setting a target themselves, or chasing down a total set by the Renegades, the Bulldogs need to learn from last week’s early mistakes and understand there is nothing wrong with batting out the full 40 overs, concentration and patience a must in such a big game.

James Reimer’s confidence should be sky high, while opening partner James Smith will be looking to make amends for last week’s disappointing innings.

As much as the Bulldogs will look to Swanston’s wicket as a key to victory, the Renegades will be putting a similar price on Scott Roberts’ wicket.

Averaging 136 with the bat this season, Roberts has left a lasting impression on the group around him and there is no doubt that every single player who takes to the ground beside him on Saturday will feel they owe him nothing short of a premiership.

Being Roberts’ nephew, Ballard has similar competitive instincts and can score runs quickly when he remains focused, while Ward, Levett and Walsh are more than capable with the willow, as is Aaron Basham.

No matter the result come Saturday evening, everyone involved in the Bulldogs cricketing campaign deserves a huge congratulations, in particular Ballard and Tom Miller, a victory as underdogs would be a fitting way to end a committed and enjoyable season before they embark on their winter sporting journey.

Aaron Byrne