HAPPY FACE: Wollongbar winger James Vidler on his way to scoring a hat-trick against Lismore in the FNC major semi-final at Lyle Park, Wollongbar on Saturday.
HAPPY FACE: Wollongbar winger James Vidler on his way to scoring a hat-trick against Lismore in the FNC major semi-final at Lyle Park, Wollongbar on Saturday.

Pioneers forging a path to rugby union grand finals

WOLLONGBAR-Alstonville are one win away from breaking an 18-year premiership drought after thumping Lismore 44-15 in the Far North Coast Rugby Union major-semi-final on Saturday.

A first half hat-trick to winger James Vidler highlighted the win as the Pioneers took a commanding 31-3 lead into the break at Lyle Park, Wollongbar.

Pioneers' five-eighth Ben Damen played a part in most of the tries along with centre Jack Downie.

However, Damen did miss some shots at goal that could have taken the Pioneers past 50.

The Greens' back three were under all sorts of pressure from the kick-off and it didn't help when winger Tom Bishop left the field early with a back injury.

"We knew we had to go out there with a good attitude and be positive in everything we did," Wollongbar coach John Jenkins said.

"And that's exactly what happened.

"I couldn't be happier with the boys' performance.

"Lismore play a very physical game but we handled it and delivered a little back."

It went from bad to worse in the second half as Lismore were reduced to 14 when prop Greg Martin was yellow carded for foul play at the breakdown.

Damen almost joined him but escaped with a warning for coming over the top as third man into the scuffle. City would have wished that he did as he continued to be on song with ball in hand.

Lismore finally scored a try midway through the second half when skipper Gavin Tulk burrowed over from close range.

Wollongbar flanker Alex Brown was soon rewarded for a solid game when he scored to extend the lead to 41-10.

Lismore winger Cody Johnston scored a try before Damen put the icing on the kick for his side with a penalty goal from 40m out.

The Pioneers will now be hoping for a case of third time lucky when they play in the grand final for a third consecutive year.

"It's what we've be aiming for all year and we've got there from playing to the structures we set at training," Jenkins said. "We've got a couple of niggling injuries but we'll deal with them and prepare well for the next game."

The score in the minor semi-final between Ballina and Lennox Head yesterday was unavailable due to the late kick-off.

Full score and report in The Northern Star tomorrow.


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