Newcastle Rugby: Belief growing as Nelson Bay live to fight another day

KEY MAN: Nelson Bay fly-half Mike Wiringi scored a try in the 22-all draw with Wanderers in the elimination semi-final. Picture: Stewart Hazell
KEY MAN: Nelson Bay fly-half Mike Wiringi scored a try in the 22-all draw with Wanderers in the elimination semi-final. Picture: Stewart Hazell

NELSON Bay fly-half Michael Wiringi quipped that the “rugby gods were smiling over us” after the Gropers progressed to the minor semi-final on the back of a missed conversion.

Wanderers winger Jack Lewsley crossed in the dying seconds of the elimination semi-final last Sunday to level the scores at 22-all. However, Luke Simmons missed the easy kick, meaning the Gropers, who were higher on the table, lived to fight another day.

Nelson Bay meet Maitland in another sudden-death showdown at No.2 Sportsground on Sunday.

“There is no doubts that the rugby gods were looking over us,” Wiringi said. “I guess we put ourselves in that position. We didn’t close out the game. As a playmaker, that is my role to close out the game and not let it get to that point. The fingers were crossed and prayers were being said and I guess the rugby gods were listening. He missed it and we went through.”

Although there was a degree of good fortune about the win, Wiringi pointed to the fact that the Bay were good enough to be in a position to win.

And it wasn’t the first time.

“Southern Beaches in the first round, they scored with a couple of minutes to go and then Junior Polai scored on the bell to win it for us,” Wiringi said. “Likewise Maitland in the wet. Will our luck run out? Maybe. But at the same time we are staying close enough to give ourselves that opportunity.”

With every win – close of otherwise – the Gropers’ belief is growing.

“That confidence comes from knowing we can compete and beat the top teams,” he said. “Come finals time, anyone can win on the day. Knowing that we have beaten Hamilton and Maitland, gives us a lot of confidence.”

Wiringi, who played for Romania at the 2015 World Cup, is in his third season at the Bay.

“In Romania, the club I played for, Baia Mare, made the finals every year,” he said. “When I can here a couple of years ago, we were getting beaten by 80 points. To see how far we have come, especially getting older as well. It is about enjoying it – win or lose 0 – and passing what I can on to the younger guys who will hopefully keep the club in good stead for years to come.”

The 33-year-old was outstanding against the Two Blues. He scored an early try, stepping past three defenders close to the ruck, to put the visitors on the front foot.

“When you have ball carriers who will attract defenders, it is probably something as a 10 – you can get too caught up in the structure –  you almost forget about yourself,” Wiringi said. “Defenders will usually go towards the big ball carriers and forget about the little guys.”

Maitland were on the opposite end of the spectrum, giving up a late penalty to go down 31-29 to Merewether in the qualifying semi-final.

They welcome back halfback Max Stafford from suspension in the only change.

“We were disappointed with the loss, but hopefully we learnt from it,” co-coach Ryan McCormack said.

“The Bay have some weapons in the backline and their forwards are extremely physical.

“They spoil well and slow down plenty of you ball. They also have forwards who can really bend the line.”

Maitland won 38-18 in their last encounter at Marcellin Park four weeks ago.

“We took a lot from that in the fact that we strung some quality football minutes together,” McCormack said. “That was the last time we did that. We have spoken about that at training. It’s not about being good for 10-minute periods. It’s about being good for 40-minute periods, and two of them. We are about consistency and not having that five and 10 minute lapses that cost us and bring the opposition teams in to the game.”