THE ABSOLUTE Enterprises Mackay Cutters sank their boots into the soggy Stadium Mackay turf for the first time in season 2016, taking part in the historic Men of League All Stars clash against the Mackay and District Rugby League All Stars last Friday night.

Up for grabs was the inaugural Greg Sutherland Memorial shield, a man pivotal in Mackay’s Rugby League heritage.

It could be forgiven if the young train-and-trial Cutters squad were feeling the nerves of the occasion, not only coming up against an MDRL All Stars squad captained by the mercurial Grant Rovelli and coached by legendary coach Col Grosskreutz, but conditions were less than ideal as kick-off approached when what started as a rain shower soon became a tropical thunderstorm.

Pushing the nerves aside, it was in fact the young train-and-trial Cutters side on the attack early off the back of a penalty.

Exploiting an overlap on the All Stars left flank, some quick passing from the Cutters backline sent Ewin Bartholomew on a clear passage down the sideline and over to score the first points of the game. 

It didn’t take long for the MDRL All Stars to get their first chance to answer back when a neat short-side play saw Ashley Ketchell latch on to an offload ‘out the back door’ and score out wide to level the game for the All Stars.  

The see-sawing battle continued as the young up and coming Cutters chipped away at the experienced heads of the MDRL All Stars.

A swift backline play from the Cutters down the right flank saw David Kay get on the outside of his opposing winger, and he streaked away to score untouched. 

Sensing their chance to stamp some much needed authority on the contest, the Cutters went on the attack straight away and found success through Jarom Haines who crossed for the Cutters third try, with Vacceneo again spot on with his kick to assert a 16-4 lead.

A combination of bruising defence and the monsoon-like wet weather frustratingly shut down both teams’ attacking play as neither side could add to their tallies before the halftime break, the Cutters holding the advantage 16-8 as the teams trudged into the sheds.

The MDRL All Stars came out of the sheds with a renewed vigour, no doubt after some stern words from coach Grosskreutz. Grosskreutz’s words paid dividends instantly when Rovelli fired a pinpoint 40/20 kick through the driving wind and rain to set up great attacking position for the All Stars.

Rovelli then turned provider as he slipped a neat pass to Hayden Lloyd to score out wide. A missed conversion left the score at 16-12, but the All Stars were right back in the contest now.

The young Cutters were beginning to panic as they sensed the momentum shifting, and poor play inside their own half lead to the MDRL All Stars being awarded a penalty deep in the attacking zone.

They needed no second invitation as Rovelli set up a hard charging Ben Buchholz for a run to the try line, the sliding Cutters defence simply bouncing off the hard charging Sarina product, and he scored adjacent to the posts. 

Pinned deep in their own territory the Cutters looked for a deep clearing kick, only for it to be brilliantly charged down from Ashley Ketchell who turned defence into attack, and he raced away unchallenged to score. Another conversion saw the lead extend to 24-16.

Hard-running straight up the middle paved the way for the All Stars to post more points, and it was Bryce Gibbs who slid through a crack in the disjointed defensive line to score. Tevita Feiloakitau-Fetuani converted the try, and all of a sudden it was 30-16 to the All Stars.

With the clock now well and truly the enemy the young Cutters side were desperate for points, and with only their third visit inside the red zone for the entire half they finally managed a response.

Yosepha Kepa spied a gap in the over-eager All Stars defence, and as they rushed up on him he stabbed a neat little grubber kick through for himself, planting the ball down in the in-goal to bring the margin down to 10 points.

The Cutters success was severely short-lived though as a low driven kick-off evaded the Cutters winger in the in goal, the ball bouncing centimetres inside the dead ball line to force a Cutters dropout.

The MDRL All Stars then put the final nail in the coffin as Aaron Jolly darted over to score from dummy half, then converted his own try to put the game to bed 36-20.

The MDRL All Stars victory saw them lift the Greg Sutherland Memorial Shield as the inaugural recipients, the young Cutters side simply unable to handle the wet weather as well as their more experienced rivals.

Those who stood out enough in coach David Simpson’s eyes will get another bite at the cherry on February 13 as the Cutters face the North Queensland Cowboys Under 20 side in Proserpine.

Photo courtesy The Daily Mercury