Pioneer power in FNC rugby

13th September 2017 5:30 AM
Wollongbar-Alstonville front-rower Joel Crowther on the run in the FNC rugby union grand final against Ballina. HARD YARDS: Wollongbar-Alstonville front-rower Joel Crowther on the run in the FNC rugby union grand final against Ballina. Vicki Kerry

WOLLONGBAR Alstonville's recent run of success has put them among the top teams in the history of Far North Coast Rugby Union.

The Pioneers claimed their fourth straight premiership with a 39-29 win over Ballina in the grand final at the weekend.

The win means they are a chance of equalling the Lennox Head record of five-straight premierships between 2008 and 2012.

Ballina dominated the competition winning five straight from 1997 and also won grand finals in 1992, 1994 and 1995 during that decade.

However, it was Coffs Harbour that had the most successful run winning eight in a row between 1973-1980.

Outgoing Wollongbar coach John Jenkins was full of praise for his current side after winning a fourth straight grand final.

It has been a big turnaround for the club who broke an 18-year premiership drought in 2014.

There was plenty of lean years in the early 2000s before returning to the finals fold a decade ago.

"A few teams have had similar success but it's very hard to achieve what we've done,” Jenkins said.

"We have a great junior base and it can be tough to keep the momentum going but the boys have done a great job.”

Only six players remain from the 2014 team while plenty of other players have come and gone over the past four years.

Front-rower Matt Wright has been there for all four along with second-rowers Steve Mison and Matt Scott.

The Pioneers quest for four straight looked in danger midway through the year when they lost NSW Country five-eighth and captain Ben Damen with a season-ending knee injury.

Jenkins decided to go with youth appointing young fullback Sam Kerry captain while he also moved Hamish Mould into the forwards who was outstanding at flanker in the finals.

The Pioneers played in grand finals in 2012 and 2013 before winning one under Jenkins the following season.

He coached the 2015 team before coming back in an assistant role last season before another turn as head coach this season.

"We had to rethink a few things once we lost Ben (Damen) but still wanted to play our direct style,” Jenkins said.

"The pleasing thing is we had one English import on the wing this year and the rest are all local juniors.”