Coaches Jack O’Connor of Harden and Mitch Wakeford of Coota met at Wallendbeen on Tuesday. Chosen for its neutral territory, both men took the time to chat with the Times and take part in a photo shoot leading up to this Saturday’s South West Oilsplus Grand Final to be held at Country Club Oval at Coota.

We spoke to both coaches about the upcoming game.


The Harden Red Devils will be out for redemption after Coota toppled the men in red to claim a home Grand Final at Country Club Oval, to be held on Saturday. Rewind two weeks and the Devils were up 17-0 at half time at Robert’s Park, only to find themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard at full-time. Harden have had to do it the hard way and will have come out of the match against Boorowa with a few lumps and bumps and a few niggles. It certainly isn’t ideal for last year’s premiers. However, as Number 8 James Wallis often says, ‘It is, what it is’.

Harden Coach Jack O’Connor scored a great try on the weekend but talked his individual effort down, knowing it is a team sport. He said, “I was in the right place at the right time, when you look back at it I got one hell of a ball from Judd Kerrison, a 15 metre flat ball pass and then Tommy Lenehan took two blokes up in his ribs. All I had to do was catch it and run.” The focus for Harden will now turn to the Tri Colours and the preparation will be slightly different. Jack said, “Boorowa were the best set piece team this season, we had to be at our best, we were at times, but I was really proud of the fellas defensively and we fixed our discipline up. Our first half against Coota was our best all year. The discipline let us down in the second half. Coota aren’t a team you can give a sniff to, they held the ball tight, they played in their middle 15 in the field and kept charging it up. The difference this weekend is that we know who their strike players will be. They’ve got 3 or 4 really good players and it’s about not letting them get the ball.”

It has been a busy few years for both clubs with Harden claiming the title in 2018, Coota 2019 and Harden 2020. If Harden win, it will be the first time they go back to back. If Coota win they take back the trophy from Harden. Covid has ensured that many of the Devils have come back to family farms which has allowed them to pick up a lot of home grown talent. The inclusion of Charlie Fairfield-Smith has added an edge to the forward pack with his experience, vital, both on the field and the sideline. Jack has been happy with the improvement of the side with a number of players lifting this season willing to do a job for the team.

He said, “Standouts for me include, Jeremy Martin and Jack Rudd. Obvious names are Charlie Brown and Jim Honner and Jack Alcorn. Max Hogan is another one, he plays front row and gets a lot of points each week because they see how much effort he puts in. The inclusion of Clint Stevens and his mongrel, backed up by Ethan Richens, he has just been getting better and better, Kyle Martin is another one who is right up there with our impactful forwards. We are really excited, we love the challenge, we have a lot of respect for what they have done over the last couple of years. All their staff do a great job. I’ve always admired someone like Jodie Heggaton who is their strapper, she is a fantastic.”

“All their new recruits as well. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some of the Fijian recruits after the game and they are great blokes, they add a different level of skill, we would like some of them on our team to be honest. There is always plenty of niggle on the field but a lot of respect. We hope it’s a good clean game and entertaining for the fans in what has been a tough 12 to 24 months for people.”

Spectators are asked to please bring a chair, face mask and to sign in using the QR code at the gate. Entry is by cash and EFT. The Coota Rugby Club is encouraging spectators to buy themselves a raffle ticket or 10. There is No BYO alcohol. Bar and canteen facilities are available. Women’s kick off at 1.45pm, men’s 3.15pm. Games are also livestreamed (more details to come) Check out the Coota Times and Twin Town Times Facebook pages and the club pages for more information later in the week.


Coota Coach Mitch said, “It will definitely be a close game, we have played each other 3 times this year. First match Harden won 10-6 on full-time at our ground, the second match we won 27-19 at Harden and then in the semis we snuck away with that win 21-20. I can’t see either side running away with it.” Coota has built on their 2019 demolition of Harden where they ran out winners 55-12.

Mitch said, “You are always building on your squad from year to year, people are always coming and going. In 2019 we had a strong squad. About half that squad stuck around in 2020 and that then created a lot of opportunities for younger guys to come through. We lost the semi to Harden 31-19, we feel we did fall short last year.” Coota boasts an experienced and strong forward pack, something that will need to be utilised to its full potential to lay a platform for the backs.

Mitch said, “We need them to lay a platform for the backs to get some good ball, something we didn’t do in the semi final. We do rely on our forwards. Harden has a good pack, I think it’s better than last year’s pack and the year before. They are a lot more rounded. They are very hard working and very young and enthusiastic, they link in well with their backline and they are dangerous all over the field. If we go out there and we play direct as we know and cherish the ball and deprive Harden of the ball, we should get some points and hopefully come away with a win.” One player from Coota to watch is Co Coach Cam Stanley.

Mitch said, “Obviously it’s a team sport but there’s a few who will have big games. He is a big time player. It is no secret that he is probably one of the best players in the comp. I expect him to have a big game on the ball and with ball in hand.” The Tri Colours had a week off and a number of them came to Harden to watch the Major Semi Final between Harden and Boorowa. They trained normally on Tuesday and expect to do so on Thursday also. Mitch said, “It was beneficial to have the week off. We had some bumps and bruises and a few boys with some niggles, so it was good to get Saturday off and come in fresh.” The towns are very similar and both linked through social and work ventures.

Mitch said, “There is a lot of chatter from town to town, people cross paths and some work together, it makes for a great sense of tribalism between both towns. A lot of us are mates and get along with each other. It is one of the best rivalries I have seen in 20 years of Rugby.”

Mitch has brought a wealth of experience to Coota. He played for the Wollongong Vikings and also represented NSW Country. He joked that last week while playing at Harden his wife showed him a Facebook memory which was ten years prior to Saturday which celebrated his 100th first grade game for his club in Wollongong. She said, “How did that make you feel?” He joked, “Bloody old.”

Don’t miss what will be an excellent game of Rugby by making Kick off for the Grand Final. 3:15pm at Country Club Oval, Coota on Saturday.