Group 11 2019: Wellington Cowboys meet Nyngan Tigers in qualifying semi-final

MOVING FORWARD: Mason Williams has been one of Wellington's most consistent performers in 2019. Photo: NICK GUTHRIE
MOVING FORWARD: Mason Williams has been one of Wellington's most consistent performers in 2019. Photo: NICK GUTHRIE

With so many high-profile recruits this season it appeared the Wellington Cowboys would just have to throw a side out on the park and the talent of the individuals would take care of the rest.

But it hasn't been that simple.

Despite all the big names now calling Kennard Park home, keeping things balanced to get the best out of every player has been a tricky task for coach Justin Toomey-White, captain Aidan Ryan, and all involved.

There was plenty of chopping and changing early in the Group 11 season but the one constant has been the presence of Mason Williams at five-eighth.

Williams' name might not catch the eye like those of Timana Tahu, Travis Waddell, Tristan Lumley or even Dennis Moran, but he's played a major part in driving the Cowboys to a spot in Saturday's qualifying semi-final.

After taking the best part of two seasons off to recover from injury and "focus on myself and my family", the former Macquarie Raiders regular has become one of the Cowboys' most reliable in 2019.

At an unfamiliar position of five-eighth, Williams has been the perfect link between the side's powerhouse forward pack and electric backline this year.

He's also provided a number of individual highlights himself while his goal-kicking has been among the best in the competition.

"I was always in the back three at Macquarie and now at five-eighth, I hadn't played there since juniors," Williams said.

"But I've really enjoyed it and it could be somewhere now I really want to cement.

"When you first come into first grade you don't care where you play and you just bounce around but now I'm that bit older I think five-eighth has suited me.

"It took me a while to get into it but I'm definitely happy with the way I've been playing."

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Williams will be in the number six again on Saturday when the Cowboys host the Nyngan Tigers in a blockbuster finals clash.

The Cowboys finished the regular season in second while the Tigers were third, and the winner of Saturday's match will meet minor premiers Dubbo CYMS next weekend for a spot in the grand final.

The home side won each time the two sides met earlier in the campaign and it was only a month ago the Tigers scored a two-point win over a Cowboys team that was down to 12 men for the bulk of the match.

The Cowboys have the best defensive record in the competition but that result was one of two in the final four rounds where they conceded more than 22 points.

I know the way they operate, especially this time of year.

Mason Williams on Nyngan's key players

"We've lapsed a little the last three or four rounds and we know we've got to be back to where we were midway through the season," Williams said.

"In attack we've got some special players but we pride ourselves on our defence.

"It's wanted we wanted to do and it's been winning us games."

Keeping the points at a minimum is no easy feat against a Tigers side featuring the attacking talents of players like Josh and Jai Merritt, Darryl Cubby, Jacob Neill, and Justin Carney.

"I've played footy with and against a lot of those blokes," Williams said, the Merritts also being ex-Raiders.

"I know the way they operate, especially this time of year.

"But I don't think there'll be a lot of flash stuff. It's going to be hard and gritty and a real battle in the forwards."

Former international star Tahu hasn't been named for Saturday's game but Steve Gordon returns for the Cowboys following his suspension stemming from the loss at Nyngan last month.

Josh Griffiths returns to halfback after featuring in the centres last round while teenager Rylee Blackhall has missed out on a spot.

The action at Wellington starts with league tag at 11am, while the main first grade match is scheduled to kick-off at 2.30pm.