TOUGH LOSS: The Chinchilla Bulldogs go head to head against the Toowoomba Brothers.
TOUGH LOSS: The Chinchilla Bulldogs go head to head against the Toowoomba Brothers. Brooke Duncan

Bulldogs' setback in trial against Toowoomba Brothers

Rugby League: Roma and District premiers Chinchilla made an uncertain start to 2019 when they were beaten in a trial match against Toowoomba Brothers last Saturday, but of greater concern was the off-season drift of players into retirement or to other clubs, officials said.

No fewer than eight of Chinchilla's grand final-winning squad were missing in their 28-14 loss to a fitter Brothers at Bulldog Park. Brothers, after jumping to an early 16-0 lead, finished with five tries. Chinchilla managed just three.

Earlier, Chinchilla's reserve graders shared the honours with Brothers in a bruising 18-all draw after taking control with two early tries.

Bulldogs' officials insisted that "not too much importance” should be placed on the A-grade result - "It's early days. A trial match is just that.”

Club management had expected some player defections after the club's stellar performances in 2018 - but hardly on the scale evident at the signing-on function a fortnight ago.

Not for the first time, some players were slow to ink registration forms. The June 30 cut-off point for registrations allows for late-comers.

"It's the nature of the beast that some leave it late,” said secretary Michelle Smith, "there were quite a lot, maybe 20, from the different grades who signed on at the ground on Saturday.”

In front-office changes, Michelle's husband, Brad, succeeds long-serving Lee Irwin as club president with Noel O'Leary vice-president. Irwin remains in a management role.

Surprisingly, Brad Smith said the club was almost certain to withdraw from the RDRL Under-18 competition in 2019.

"We simply don't have the players. A percentage of last year's squad will graduate to the Reggies (Reserve Grade),” he said, "some may make the transition to the A-grade, depending on circumstances.

"Our under-16s, who compete in the South Burnett competition, are the club's future but that has to wait.”

Meanwhile, Miles has announced that it is unable to field a stand-alone A-grade team this season. The RDRL has approved the Devils' move to link with teams from Taroom and Wandoan to join Chinchilla, Mitchell, St George and Wallumbilla/Surat in the senior competition. It is the latest example of a players' shortfall in country football.

Chinchilla last week confirmed the appointment of utility back Tom Dodd as A-grade captain-coach, replacing Anthony Horswood who has re-signed but did not turn out against Brothers.

Dodd has inherited a squad short on experience. At time of writing the list of non-starters includes prolific points-scorer Jeff Gilbert, the RDRL's senior player-of-the-year in 2018, Simon Colls, Steven Brownhalls and Chris Davies. They will not easily be replaced.

"We'll be competitive,” promised Irwin, pointing to the senior team's noteworthy efforts to snatch the title last winter, albeit via the back door. The Bulldogs were beaten by Wallumbilla/Surat in the major semi-final before earning a second chance at the expense of bitter rivals Cities in the preliminary final. The Bulldogs then laid waste to Wallumbilla in the season finale.

Chinchilla are drawn to play centenary club St George at Bulldog Park on the weekend of April 13-14. Other first-round fixtures are Cities v Red Bulls (Roma) and Mitchell v Miles/Taroom/Wandoan at Mitchell.

Trial results:

A-grade: Brothers 28 (Kyle Wagner 2, Nick Trevisol, Nicholas Nairn, Brad Brown tries. Wally Pegler 3 goals) beat Chinchilla 14 (Aaron Smoothy, Neal Hooper, Hayden Bender tries. Hooper 3 goals).

Reserve-grade: Chinchilla 18 (Matt Townsend 2, Tom Dodd tries. Joe Peters 3 goals) drew with Brothers 18 (Michael Evans, Brad McLaughlin, Joseph Brandon tries. Adam Sutton 3 goals).

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