By HARRY CLARKE
SUPPORTERS turned out to Centenary Oval in their hundreds when the Miles Devils hosted the Chinchilla Bulldogs, in a tense backyard-style battle that set an exciting tone for the 2021 Roma rugby league competition.
Chinchilla needed every one of their 80 minutes to seal a nail-biting 26-20 win in A-grade.
Fullback Raymon Mutch slotted a penalty goal from just shy of the 40-metre mark to halt a late charge from Miles, who looked for a moment like snatching victory from their Warrego Highway rivals.
Under the direction of halves combo Jaykob Lankowski and Marty Steel, the hosts looked like a far more seasoned team than one from a reviving club that’s also just had the Covid year off.
On Saturday’s performance it seems the boys in blue will enjoy their fair share of wins this year.
All four of the Devils’ tries were scored by the backs, thanks to bustling runs from a forward pack led by lock Angus Raymen and prop Kevin Brown.
But the Bulldogs were deserving winners. Towering forwards Dylan Taylor and Charlie Redgen helped to wear the Devils down and it never looked easy to break Chinchilla’s defensive line.
Experience up front from the likes of Frank Roma and Danny Deleiuen was also a visible advantage.
From the reserves bench, Bulldogs veteran Anthony Horswood joked that he’d strapped the boots on again this year for “mainly moral support” but, true to form, he was ultimately one of Chinchilla’s top defenders.
Bulldogs captain and dummy half Hayden Bender said it was pleasing to secure a first round victory.
“It was a bit sloppy but it was good to get a win on the board straight up,” he said.
“We enjoyed getting out there today but a bit more fitness would be good.
“Without our younger guys – the under 18s – Lachie Smith and Willy Playstead, we would have been a long way from a good game.”
While the game came with a thrilling finish, the main feature of the day was the big crowd that came out at Miles, setting the tone for what the club hopes will be a well supported season.
Spokesperson Ken Brown said the committee had worked hard in the off season to rebuild both the playing group and the team of organisers.
“It’s been a great day. A lot of the guys haven’t played for 18 months so they’re very happy to be back out on the field,” Brown said.
“There’s been really good support from the town. Everyone’s really starting to get back on board with the Devils,” Brown said.
“We’ve got a great facility here at Centenary Oval and we really want to utilise it, get people coming here and having a good time.
“It hasn’t all been about the footy. A lot of people are just here to socialise as well, which is really good.”