By Sean Durant

Normanton Stingers v Mornington Shire Raiders

April 11, John Henry Oval

Match day was finally here, after most travelled by boat and others by plane to make it to Normanton.

There were a few stiff bodies after a four hour boat trip, followed by a four hours bus ride that included over 150km of unsealed road through the Savannah country of North Queensland. But today was finally here after 10 weeks of training and the Raiders were not going to have any excuses.

The players called a meeting in the morning and discussed the reasons why they are here. A heartfelt and passionate discussion followed, where they declared the love of family, community and culture and a desire to give Mornington Island kids the opportunity to shine as their motivation. This was followed by a pool session and a big breakfast.

Under lights at Normanton, and after a stirring pre-game speech, the Raiders’ time to return to rugby league was finally here. In what was a physical opening to the match highlighted by jarring defence from both sides, it was the Stingers who settled earliest and got first points on the score board.

In what seemed an eternity, the brave Raiders repelled wave after wave of Normanton attack before fatigue set in and Normanton claimed a 10 point lead.

Dropped ball cruelled the Raiders attack and repeated sets of defence on their own line gave them little ball until after the 20 minute mark. The Stingers continually tried to intimidate the young raiders forwards, Waylon Juhel, Dane Toby, Dalex Loogootha and Karl Roughsey, but they didn't back down and took the game to Normanton.

The introduction of Raiders veteran Bernie Joe and Dagan Rogers steadied the ship and the Raiders finally got to the other end of the field thanks their defensive efforts. A sweeping backline movement got the ball in the hands of replacement centre Konrad Thomas, and managed to offload to Kelton Thompson to put the Raiders on the score board and ignite their spirits and the Raiders support crew.

The bench erupted as The Dugong Raiders scored again not long after, after a set play found the ball in the hand of the second rower Chicko Toby, who showed what he could do with a great ball to young power forward Waylon Juhel to bust through a gaping hole in the defence to score under the posts. Frank John Amini landed the conversion to make it 10 all.

The Raiders drifted slightly from the game plan, and with more dropped ball found themselves down 14–10 at half time.

At half time it was stressed the importance of ball security and valuing possession, and the strong efforts of the defensive line was applauded. Spirits were still high and the feeling was that they could more than match the Normanton forwards.

The second half began much like the first and the Raiders found themselves defending their own line and this was sucking them of valuable energy. A mounting injury toll and some unlucky decisions took its toll on the Raiders in the second half, and they will rue some missed opportunities after Konrad Thomas made a sideline break followed by yet another barnstorming run from potential rising star Waylon Juhel. The Raiders continued to win plenty of admirers with their defensive attitude. A couple of late tries to Normanton saw the scoreboard blow out.

Unfortunately the Raiders couldn't complete enough sets to showcase their attacking strengths and the backline had very limited opportunities. With a fair share of possession and ball control the Raiders will be able to show their true ability. The final score 28-10.

The Raiders comeback is now complete and the players have vowed that this is the beginning of the journey and will be back bigger and better next time. Some of the younger members have gained invaluable experience. The coach of the Raiders has challenged them to set higher standards in regards to preparation and commitment to training so they can reach their full potential.

Some of the highlights included the performances of the forward pack sticking it to their bigger and more experienced rivals, the power running from Waylon Juhel, the solid foundation laid by prop Dalex Loogootha, the rock solid performances of hard men Bernie Joe and Dagan Rogers, the complete 80 minute performances of work horse second rower Chico Toby and captain Lomas Amini, and the impressive utility value of Glendon Moon.

The Raiders wanted to thank everyone for their support and the donations of equipment and resources and everyone who made it possible for them to have this experience. Thank you to VMR skipper Paul Linden for making the trip possible. They also wanted to thank their families for their unwavering support.

Also thank you to the Normanton Stingers Rugby League club who looked after the players and the Normanton PCYC.

The community should be proud of these young strong men who represented the community with passion, desire and courage. They have put the Raiders and rugby league back on the map and it is a experience all those on tour will never forget.

Players player: Waylon Juhel

Coaches Award: Bernie Joe

(Awards below judged by Normanton officials and referees)

Best Back: Lenford Gabori

Best Forward: Waylon Juhel

Encouragement Award: Brett Hills