THE Jindabyne Bushpigs have put a poor start behind them in their semi-final to advance to the preliminary final with a 35 - 27 victory over the Bungendore Mudchooks at John Connors Oval on Saturday.
The Bushpigs finished their rollercoaster regular season in third position and faced the prospect of a difficult path to their third straight grand final. Their first hurdle was a home semi-final against the in-form Bungendore Mudchooks who tested the Pigs in their last encounter. Spirits were high leading into the match with the return of Liam Pepper from suspension and Dirk Wilkens from injury.
Unfortunately however, the enthusiasm leading into the game was not matched in the opening stanza of the first half with the Jindabyne side immediately put under pressure from the Mudchooks. The away side dominated possession and territory which was rewarded with two quick tries and a 10 - 0 lead. A horrific injury to Wilkens, who fractured his leg in a ruck compounded the pressure on the home side with the lack of line speed and commitment in the tackle quickly leading to Bungendore crashing over for another try and a 17 - 0 lead after 15 minutes.
This seemed to kick the Bushpigs into gear and they finally managed to get their hands on the ball. Strong carries from Josh Shortland led to some good field position and the Pigs began to pile on the pressure. Jindabyne's forwards worked hard attacking the Mudchook's line and finally the dominance was rewarded with the pack pushing the scrum 5m in a strong display to allow James Knight to fall on the ball for his first try of the season and put Jindabyne back in the match.
The shackles seemed to have been broken following this effort with the forwards confidence beginning to rise. Heavy contact from Issac Maw and Jeremy Witherdin allowed the backs to get the breaks they needed to force their way back into the red zone.
The Mudchook's were cracking under the pressure and repeated infringements led to them receiving a yellow card. A second yellow card following a professional foul on Maw after a smart quick tap hurt the away side further. Jindabyne pounced on the opportunity with Liam Pepper powering his way over from the back of a scrum to score under the posts. Captain Jake Roarty converted once again to make the score 17 - 14 at half time.
The second half was a much better showing from the Pigs after some stern and honest words at half time from the captain and support staff Matthew Caldwell and Michael Needham. The Bushpigs were determined to put the match to bed and it showed in their determined defence. Strong efforts from Taku Taiaroa and Ian Vagg seemed to be tiring out the Mudchooks and this led to mistakes. Their backline began to rattle and a dropped pass was swiftly swooped on by Lucas Rixon for his first try of the day and put his side into the lead for the first time. The defence stepped up another level again with big tackles from Roarty in the backs and Steve Rompannen in the forwards forcing more mistakes from the Mudchooks. On the back of this possession great vision from halfback Andrew McDonald and good hands from the backs spurred a short side raid with Craig Dixon breaking the line and showing great composure to find Rixon in support for another try. Roarty's form with the boot continued to put the score at 28 - 17 and the game seemed to be slipping away from the Mudchooks.
The Bushpigs were lifted by some great runs from the Butters brothers and reserve Jackson Carauna marched the side downfield and good ruck work from Vagg allowed good friend Rompannen to crash over for the sides fifth try out wide. Roarty completed his perfect day with the boot to push the score to 35 - 17. The Mudchooks scored two late tries but were no match for the run-away winners in the end.
The side will now travel to Taralga for the preliminary final and a chance to meet Crookwell in the Grand Final. A supporter's bus is being organised, for those interested please contact Brett Atkinson. The club would also like to wish Pigs Matthew Caldwell, Dirk Wilkens and Daniel Josifovski all the best following their respective surgeries.