Right player. Right time.
Less than a minute remained as the Group Three Rugby League clash between Wingham and Macleay Valley wound to a frantic conclusion at Wingham. The Tigers, after a field goal from Nick Beacham, led 23-22 in a game they had to win to keep their finals hopes alive.
However, the Mustangs gained possession from the re-start after Beacham's one pointer. Macleay worked play deep into Wingham's zone but desperate defence managed to stop the raids. Twenty seconds left. One more tackle. The ball went to veteran Macleay five-eighth Mal Webster - just the player required in this situation.
He sent a perfectly-timed long and spiraling pass that was greedily accepted by second rower Selwyn Smith after an aborted intercept attempt by a Wingham player. Smith dived over as the siren sounded effectively sealing Macleay's top five berth and ending Wingham's. Shane Davis-Caldwell landed the conversion as the visitors had prevailed 28-23. It was the only time in the game Macleay enjoyed the outright lead.
Webster and Steve Walker were the elder statesmen in an otherwise youthful Macleay squad. While Webster mightn't have the dash he showed in his prime, he possesses an astute football brain.
With captain-coach Ant Cowan sidelined due to concussion sustained the previous week, Webster was the game manager, a role he handled with aplomb.
Players from both sides struggled in the unseasonably warm conditions but it was still a pretty good game.
Wingham led 10-0 at halftime via tries to Nash Atkins and Brannon Murray and a goal to Michael Rees. However, it was 10-10 soon after the resumption when winger Samuel Dunn and centre Miles Mongta scored long range tries for the Mustangs and Davis-Caldwell kicked a conversion.
Atkins produced a show and go to fool the defence and push Wingham to a 16-10 lead with Rees' goal. Then Beacham showed he has a kicking game by nailing a 40-20 and in the ensuing set prop Aaron Groom crashed over and the conversion gave Wingham a 22-10 cushion with 20 to go. The Tigers received a penalty soon after but Rees missed what would have been an invaluable goal.
Macleay responded when fullback Tirell Dungay worked his way over for a try and Davis-Caldwell added the extras, setting up a grandstand finish at 22-16 with 10 minutes left.
Webster's passing game gave his outside supports space all game. However, he sent an inside ball to Walker at close range and the big prop powered over. The conversion locked it up at 22-22. There was more drama to follow when the Mustangs took the ball dead from the kickoff, gifting Wingham field position with the line drop. Three tackles later Beacham showed his versatility by popping the field goal, setting up the manic finale.
Cowan agreed Webster was the perfect player to have in the clutch moment.
"It's good to have Mal back playing,'' Cowan said.
He added the match proved his young side can win big matches but he remains concerned the Mustangs are giving away too many penalties at crucial times
"A lot of things didn't go our way today and those one percenters, they win or lose matches,'' he said.
"But we keep giving penalties and we can't do that.''
"It was a good win and it puts us in a good position moving forward into the semis. Today showed that these boys can step up and win big games.''
Cowan is unsure when he'll return to the field.
"Maybe next week, I'll give myself the best chance. But in saying that, my health comes first,'' he said.
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