By Michael Roberts | posted on November 26, 2020
THE Albany Sea Dragons punched well above their weight to reach the grand final of the inaugural Great Southern Nines rugby league tournament at Centennial Oval last weekend.
Powerhouse Perth side Fremantle Roosters were convincing winners in the Nines decider – running out 30-8 victors – but the underdog Sea Dragons gained a heap of admiration for the way they went about it on and off the field.
The Sea Dragons’ gutsy performance was summed up by the efforts of young defender Naki La’akulu, who suffered a serious head injury in the grand final and had to be taken to hospital.
Albany Sea Dragons President Gary Tutt said La’akulu was in good spirits after being flown to Perth for recovery.
“As soon as the injury happened, everyone was concerned, everyone was out there making sure he was okay,” he said.
“I’ve had follow-up phone calls from the other clubs asking us for an update, which is amazing. They were all genuinely concerned.”
The incident added a sour note to a tournament that was otherwise hailed a big success.
NRLWA Operations Manager Tony Crowe said the Great Southern Nines was now a lock on the local rugby calendar.
“We are really happy with the initial outcome, given it was the inaugural year with five teams participating,” he said.
“Three of those teams have already committed to next year.
“We will use this as a platform. We believe on the back of that, there will be more teams coming down from Perth.”
As part of the tournament, over 40 local kids took part in a skills clinic on Sunday morning run by NRLWA.
“We now have a casual game development officer based in Albany as a result of this,” he said.
“The great work Gary Tutt and the Albany Sea Dragons have done is not to be underestimated.
“We are fortunate to have good people on the ground down there that are driving the game at a local level.
“Katanning has traditionally had a massive rugby union history, but we seem to have, over the last 12 months, taken a solid hold of the place and a good footprint there for rugby league.
“There is lots to look forward to.”
After losing their open- ing match against the Roosters by two points, the Sea Dragons quickly recovered to down Serpentine-Jarrahdale 12-10 in a nail biter.
And despite losing to Mandurah Storm by 10 points earlier in the day, the Sea Dragons later turned that result on its head to defeat the visiting team by 36-10 and book a place in the grand final.
Tutt said he couldn’t have been prouder of the Sea Dragons’ efforts.
“They gave all they had,” he said.
“We’ve got to remember, these teams are seasoned competitors, so they’ve been together a long time.
“Our team hasn’t had the opportunity to train a lot together and we have to try and work together from three different towns.
“For us to be a rag tag army, we did really well.”
Tutt said the Southern Nines would be back bigger and better next year.
“All the patrons, spectators and teams were really happy with it,” he said.
“A lot of the teams said they are going to bring back two or three squads next year.
“Hopefully next year we get twice as many clubs.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from our first tournament.”