Bowral have claimed a bittersweet victory over Avondale in Saturday's Illawarra Rugby grand final rematch, after the game was cut short due to a serious injury.
The second half was just two minutes old when Bowral winger Tom Mooney suffered an ankle fracture and dislocation. With light having faded by the time an ambulance arrived, the match was called with the Blacks leading 18-13.
With Mooney set to undergo surgery on Sunday and a lengthy rehab process to follow, Bowral captain-coach Tim Small said it was not how he had hoped the match would play out.
"Tom's in good spirits, the boys have had a bit of contact with him and have offered him support," Small said. "They'll get in there to repair the fractured tibia, it was a significant dislocation and fracture, so there's a bit that needs to be addressed.
"It was a really good game up to that point, a similar hit out to the grand final, that was 13-all at halftime, this was 18-13 our way. It would have been nice to play it out having not had the injury, but obviously that's one part of our game and it's not nice seeing guys get injured.
"Everyone was concerned, the Avondale boys were excellent in supporting us and the care they provided Tom. He was in quite a bit of pain and discomfort and will have the full support of our club throughout his recovery."
The injury put an end to a high-quality match, with both sides reinforcing why they are favourites to return to the grand final in 2019.
For Small, the first half played out in a similar manner to last year's decider and he was looking forward to seeing if his side could finish over the top of their opponents like they did in 2018.
The injury meant they did not have that opportunity, but he was still pleased with what he saw from his team in the opening 40 minutes.
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"Avondale are at the top of the table for a reason, they're a very hard team to contain. Both sides were opting for penalty goals knowing it would be hard to break the line. It was a very tight contest, we knew it would be.
"It would have been nice to keep going in the second half, we felt like we were getting momentum, but it wasn't to be."
In more promising injury news, Bowral will welcome back 2018 Illawarra Rugby Player of the Year Lachlan Huntington in next week's match against Camden, with halfback Small looking forward to playing alongside his five-eighth.
Small acknowledged that Huntington will provide a major boost to the team's attack next weekend, but he also conceded the team will struggle to replace Mooney.
"Tom will be an enormous absence, he's one of our best finishers, he was nearly top try scorer in the competition last year, so he's a huge loss as far as football goes. We're lucky we've got depth and a few good young edge players that will fill in."
In other games this weekend, Vikings claimed a crucial 27-23 victory over University and Camden defeated Tech 45-29. Kiama secured a 26-13 victory over Shoalhaven and Shamrocks kept on rolling with a 36-3 win over Campbelltown.
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