Stirring send-off honours long-time footy hero
RUGBY LEAGUE: Champion Fassifern halfback Mitchell Range left the field through a guard of honour as he bid farewell to the Rugby League Ipswich A-Grade competition with a 34-28 loss to the Redbank Plains Bears.
Both teams formed a tunnel to show their respect for the southern division star who has been a Bomber since he was six-years-old and was a member of the club's first ever premiership-winning side in 2012.
Unfortunately for Range, it did not go his way on the field.
His teammates fought relentlessly to secure victory for their courageous captain, who soldiered through and finished the season despite aggravating a neck injury during the representative period.
But it was not to be.
Opposite number Farran Willett collected man-of-the-match honours, Cyrus Leota returned from injury in impressive form and Samuel Dixon bagged a double as Redbank controlled the contest from start to finish.
The Bombers hung tough. They returned fire each time their rivals edged ahead but were damaged repeatedly on the fringes.
Though the bad news Bears dampened Range's celebration, the sportsmanship and spirit on show as the clubs took part in 'It ain't too weak to speak' round was heartening.
All in attendance observed a minute silence prior to kick-off to recognise former clubmen to have suffered from depression and their families.
The important message of mateship, inclusion and supporting each other was on show again as Fassifern coach Daniel Roos and Range visited the Redbank sheds post-match to wish them all the best for their finals' tilt.
Redbank Plain Bears coach John Leota said it was moving to see both clubs unite behind the cause and he paid tribute to the class shown by Fassifern's leaders in the face of defeat.
"It is good to see that footy can create friendship,” he said.
"That's the one thing I love about this game. We all stand up and smash each other but at the end of the day we're all brothers, and we're all humans. Unfortunately, for Rangey it didn't go his way. But the occasion was all about encouraging people to reach out.”
Roos said Range had been a tireless servant and the experienced veteran would not be lost to the club with the Fassifern local expected to be involved off-field in the future.
He said the send-off his skipper received from both clubs was a fitting way to recognise his enormous contribution to the game in the region.
"It was a really nice thing,” Roos said. "Everyone was doing their best to get the win for Rangey.”
Range said he appreciated the gesture but did not rule out making a return after a year off.
"I deliberately didn't tell anyone I was retiring because I don't want to seem like Johnny Farnham if I do come back,” he said.
Roos said it had been a challenging season at times but the Bombers had shown what they were capable of over the past few weeks.
He said the club was in a rebuilding phase which mirrored the year after it won the grand final and would be back bigger and better next year.
"I think we won the wooden spoon in 2013 because we lost 12 from the premiership team,” Roos said.
"The same thing happened this year.
"But we have had the chance to blood some guys and they have improved every week, so that will only strengthen the club. We will also be looking to recruit strongly.
"So it will be good to see what they can do next year.”
The final round test provided by the Bombers served as ideal preparation for the Bears who turn their attention to an elimination semi-final with Swifts in two weeks.
Leota said the week off would be a godsend for his squad, with a number of players suffering from niggling injuries.
The Redbank taskmaster said seven top-liners were rested against Fassifern but all were expected to be fit for the do or die clash and he could not wait to have them back on the field.
He said he eased electric fullback Godfrey Okot back into the action on Saturday night and his most dangerous weapon would be better for the run and ready to aim up against the Bluebirds.
Meanwhile, the Swifts Bluebirds were in the zone as they upset Brothers 40-16 in front of a vocal crowd as the clubs joined forces for the annual Pink breast cancer fundraiser at Raceview this afternoon.
Ecstatic coach Damian O'Donohue said he could sense a different feeling in the dressing shed pre-match and it translated into the on-field performance.
"The boys were really switched on,” he said.
"It is not hard to get up for Brothers. A few players have changed between the two clubs both ways so there is a bit of feeling there.
"Plus they have been the benchmark all season, so we thought we better put it together now or never.”
O'Donohue said captain Jake O'Doherty, prop Aurangzeb Nuuola, hooker Mitchell Molloy and centre Ricki Mato were among the Bluebird's standout performers.
Brothers coach Jason Connors said he had rested four key men and his team was not at all concerned in the wake of the loss because its focus was squarely set on the semi-final blockbuster with Goodna.
In today's other match, Norths Tigers finished the season in style with a 34-28 win over the West End Bulldogs.
State of Play
RLI A-Grade Rd 21: Redbank Plains 34 (Bronson Baker 1, Samuel Dixon 2, Cyrus Leota 1, Maseiga Maisa Teomatuvai 1 and Uati Faamaile 1 tries; Farran Willett 5 conversions) def Fassifern Bombers 28 (Jacky Marcus 2, Tate Arova Jnr 1, Jack Wallace 1, Cameron Smith 1; Jake Hooper 4 conversions); Swifts Bluebirds 40 def Brothers 16; Norths Tigers 34 def West End Bulldogs 28.