Narromine captain-coach Wes Middleton has spoken about the pride he has for his Indigenous heritage after leading First Nation Goannas to victory on Saturday night.
Middleton was captain of the Goannas for the clash with the New Zealand Maori at Redfern Oval, the headline act during the week-long Festival of Indigenous Rugby League.
In trying conditions, the Indigenous boys wrapped up a 22-16 win over the Maori side, the hosts clinging to a six-point lead late in the game as the New Zealanders mounted a final challenge on the Goannas’ line.
Middleton, who has linked with the Jets in 2018 and was one five Western representatives in the First Nation line-up alongside Will Merritt (Cowra), Zac Marritt (Bathurst/Forbes), Justin Toomey-White (Wellington) and Trent Rose (Bathurst), was filled with immense pride following the win.
“The experience was unreal,” Middleton told NRL.com following the match.
“I’m very proud of my brothers. It was a bit rusty to start but it was the first time playing together.
“Times got tough but we dug deep and ended up coming away with the win in the end.”
The match was played in front of a healthy crowd at Redfern Oval, with a host of current NRL stars in attendance.
Both sides performed cultural dances, the First Nation war cry led by Rose, who has played with Bathurst Panthers, Orange CYMS and Oberon in Group 10.
The festival captured not only a great display of rugby league, but team camaraderie that was influenced by a deep cultural pride.
The Maoris opened the scoring through Ozzy Tuwhangai before Goannas fullback Ryan Walker and Doyle Munga both crossed to hand the hosts a 10-4 lead.
The New Zealanders hit back shortly after to draw the scores level, Adrian Davis nailing the sideline conversion of Michael Purcell’s try on the half-time siren.
Starting the second half far better than they did the opening term of the match, the First Nation boys crossed twice in quick succession through Dan Tanner and Kieran Vale to propel themselves to a 22-10 buffer before Maori centre Jayden Horo scored to set up a thrilling finish but the New Zealanders could not bridge the gap.
- FIRST NATION GOANNAS 22 (Ryan Walker, Michael Purcell, Dan Tanner, Kieran Vale tries; Adrian David 3 goals) def NEW ZEALAND MAORI 16 (Ozzy Tuwhangai, Carne Doyle-Manga, Jayden Horo tires; Manaia Rudolph 2 goals).