Pre-season prediction: First
Position: Second (13 wins, 3 losses, +420 points differential)
In short: On the charge for a third consecutive Group 20 title in 2013, the Mallee Men looked good value to make it happen for long stretches of this season – but they were outenthused in the key games by sides arguably hungrier than they were.
What went right: West Wyalong went undefeated from their first bye in round 7 until the start of the finals series. With Leeton’s stunning first season under Willie McDonald grabbing most of the attention in local rugby league circles, the two-time reigning premiers somehow flew under the radar.
What went wrong: For an experienced, battle-hardened side such as the Mallee Men to be tossed out of the finals in straight sets will not sit well with the club hierarchy. Perhaps they simply ran out of steam in their 26-18 loss to TLU and the 44-16 defeat to Yenda, which together drew West Wyalong’s 2013 season to a premature close.
Best win: While the week prior they were 106-1 winners over the struggling Waratahs, it was in round 10 that the side in red and black made their finals intentions clear for all, prevailing 38-26 over the form team of the competition, Leeton.
Worst loss: In a result that still beggars belief some five months on, the Hay Magpies overcame West Wyalong 50-22 in round 3 for arguably the biggest upset in Group 20 history.
Best player: Hard to pick one, but hard to go past the four that made the Group 20 team of the year – fullback Jared Caruthers, captain-coach Willy Jones, playmaker Rohan Louden and Craig Iverach. Veteran Ryan Prevett, who returned to the club mid-season, was very good when he wasn’t injured, while prop Nick Puntoriero was outstanding.
Leading tryscorer: He wasn’t just West Wyalong’s leading tryscorer – Jared Caruthers was Group 20’s leading pointscorer. Caruthers crossed for a team-high 20 tries but also booted 70 goals for the year, a total of 220 points – nearly a third of the team’s attacking output.
Moving forward: There’s a bit of life left in West Wyalong but a few fresh faces wouldn’t go astray, if only to ensure this very successful side stays keen. The way they crashed out of the finals will be of concern.
Grade: B. The end of an era? Only time will tell, but there was something worrying about the way the Mallee Men looked so good and then burned out so quickly in the finals. Interesting times ahead.