A HAT-TRICK to winger Owen Blair has helped the NSW Country under 23s, featuring Shellharbour’s Jack Kavanagh and Jamberoo’s Corey Grigg, secure a 44-10 victory over the Australian Defence Force, in the opening match of their end of season tour.
The Country side were taking the field, at Ipswich’s Alan Cumming Park, for the first time in the lead up to their clash with the Papua New Guinea Digicell Cup representative team this Sunday and were faced with a fired up Defence Force outfit looking to upset their visiting opponents.
An early try to the ADF provided the catalyst for the Country side to click into gear with quick doubles to Ryan McQueen and Owen Blair setting up a 24-6 lead to Country at the half-time break.
A strong run by Ryley Thomas just after the half-time break provided Blair with his hat-trick, before a great team effort saw Brett Wright cross underneath the posts; with Derek Hay handling twice in an exciting piece of play which brought the local crowd to their feet.
A bustling run by Country Player of the Year Caleb Ziebell saw Joe Besgrove put the game beyond doubt for Country, before Ryley Thomas finished off the win with a clean pick up at speed off the boot of Sam Elwin to record a 44-10 victory.
Hat-trick hero Blair believed it was a great way to start the tour.
“It feels pretty good – I love it,” Blair said.
“Our forwards really compressed the middle and we were able to play off the back of that.
“Everyone wanted the ball but we fell back into our structures and everything ran off the back of that.
Donning the Country jersey for the first time, Blair admitted it was an emotional night.
“I’m pretty proud of it… I’m the first person from my family to do it,” he said.
I’m just soaking it all in and hopefully it helps make my game better.
“I’ve never been overseas… I’ve never left town… I’m speechless.”
"It's great to get that first game under the belt"— Country Rugby League (@CountryRL) October 9, 2018
The Country Under-23's have kicked off their tour with a 44-10 victory over the Australian Defence Force in Ipswich 🏉
Match highlights and details - https://t.co/VJy0IUck1s#gocountrypic.twitter.com/O3uqWWu0s6
Country coach Josh Cale believed it was good to get the first game of the tour completed.
“We haven’t been in camp for long time and I always feel more comfortable when the boys play the game, so it was really good,” Cale said.
“We worked hard early and when the game did open up a I thought we moved the ball well.
“That game will do us wonders heading into the game against Papuan New Guinea.”
The Country under 23s will take on the Papua New Guinea Digicell Cup representative team this Sunday.