They are defending league and provincial champions. The Prince George Gnats, intent on rumbling to similar success this season, started their year with a loss and a win Saturday in Vernon.
The Gnats opened their new Central Interior Rugby Union campaign with a 7-0 setback against the Vernon Jackals but then outlasted the Kelowna Crows 15-10.
In the Gnats-Jackals game, Vernon scored the only try in the opening minutes of the second half when Jeremy Hancyk went on a 40-yard romp through the Prince George defence. The Gnats had several chances after that but couldn’t punch the ball in for a major score.
“We were on the try line the whole time and couldn’t put anything through,” said Dave McMullen of the Gnats. “Their defence was good.”
Against Kelowna, the Gnats led 10-0 at halftime and then held off a spirited Crows side in the second half. Jesse Bieber, Glen Williams and Josh Holman scored the trys for Prince George.
“We played hard,” McMullen said. “It seemed like there was a little bit more open space for our guys to start running. We ran hard and had good D. We made some good tackles and managed to pull through in that one.”
After claiming the CIRU crown in 2010, the Gnats advanced to the Provincial Independent Club Championship and eventually beat the Kootenay Selects 15-12 in the final.
The Gnats have several key veterans back in uniform this year, guys like McMullen, Troy McKenzie, Paul Bryant and Brendan Wolf. McMullen said the Williams Lake Rustlers will likely give the Gnats the biggest challenge in the quest for the lone CIRU berth in provincials.
“I think Williams Lake is going to be our stiffest competition but I think we’ve got them,” he said.
The Gnats will be in Edmonton this coming weekend for a tournament. Their next league game is June 4 in Williams Lake.