THE Group Three Rugby League season is only five weeks old, but already there appears to be a gap between the top four teams and the rest.
This was evident at the Wingham Sporting Complex on Saturday afternoon when the home side thumped Taree City 50-12. making it three-in-a-row for the Tigers.
Wingham, Macleay Valley, Wauchope and Port Macquarie will finish in the top four, although not necessarily in that order, unless there's injures, suspension or a dramatic loss of form. Taree City, Port City, Forster-Tuncurry and Old Bar will fight it out for the remaining spot in the playoffs. That'll make Taree's game with Port City next week important for both sides.
Wingham were a class above the Bulls, as the score suggests. They were clinical in attack, their completions were good and they didn't afford Taree too much latitude in attack.
Taree lacked enthusiasm. The Bulls were also hampered in the first half when for 20 of the 40 minutes they were down to 12 players after lock Thomas Paulson was twice given a stay in the sin bin by referee Jason Higgins. Paulson had only just returned to the fray after his first stint in the confessional when he was given a second 10 minute rest.
Just how much Paulson's absence impacted on the Bulls is problematic. However, the scoreline of 24-6 at halftime pretty well summed up Wingham's dominance.
The Tigers controlled the ruck and everything started from there. Prop Nick Beacham showed he has shrugged off his injury woes from earlier in the second with a player of the match performance. Beacham ran in two tries, punching his way through the defensive line up the centre. Wingham were able to get go-forward and on the edges second rower Jake Mullen shone, enjoying the space he was afforded.
It was also a good day for elusive fullback Matt Bridge, who finished with three tries while lock Brendan Butler was another Tiger to shine. Bridge's speed and anticipation was on show in all three touchdowns while his combination with coach Mick Sullivan is a potential match winner.
Sullivan gave himself an early mark, clocking off before the mid point of the second half although he said later there's no drama involved. Such is Wingham's depth this year that Sullivan and Beacham went to the interchange bench and they were replaced by Trent Green and Joel Kliendienst.
The Bulls defended for much of the first half the previous match against Forster but went to the sheds at halftime down by just two points before running away with the game in the second half. Taree spent most of the first half stuck in their territory against Wingham in the opening stanza, but the Tigers are a different proposition to the Hawks.
The game was only minutes old when second rower Tim Watson was given space by Sullivan and he ran into a gap and over the line to open the scoring for Danny Russell - who had a good day with the boot - to convert. Taree captain-coach Todd Bridge was denied a try when referee Higgins ruled a double movement soon after and it was looking ominous for the Bulls when Beacham broke tackles near the line to score after an earlier run by centre Kurt Lewis.
Paulson worked his way over for Taree to break their duck and centre Logan Wallis added the extras but hooker Mitch Collins did the ground work for Butler to crash over for Wingham's third converted try. Beacham added his second and Russell was on target to make it 24-6 at halftime.
Matt Bridge sprinted in for his first soon after the resumption and from there the main interest was whether the Tigers would make the half ton. They managed this just before the siren when Bridge posted his hat-trick and Russell slotted the conversion. Callum Wesley earlier scored an intercept try for Taree.
it was a bleak day for the Bulls, with an ankle injury sustained by prop Broden Hamilton just adding to the problems. Hamilton was assisted to the sideline and took no further part in the game
The Tigers started the day on the right note by winning the league tag 18-6 while Wingham's reserves maintained their unbeaten record by downing Taree 40-6 after leading 12-6 at the break.
Wingham 50 (T Bridge 3, N Beacham 2, B Butler 2, T Watson, J Kliendienst tries, D Russell 7 goals) defeated Taree City 12 (T Paulson, C Wesley tries, L Wallis 2 goals).