Orange Hawks knocked off defending Group 10 premiers Mudgee 28-18 on Sunday at Wade Park, the hosts producing a stunning defensive effort to get the job done.
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The two blues were camped on their own line for majority of the opening half, the Dragons throwing plenty at Hawks’ defence only to be repelled more often than not.
I suppose it brings a little bit of pressure, actually,.- Willie Heta after knocking off Mudgee
In wet conditions, the visitors came up with two converted tries, the first to Nathan Orr then through his centre partner Lee Hicks, but both were off-set by four-pointers to Jake Blimka and big Arty Shead, in his comeback to Group 10.
And, from the half-time break onward, the game belonged to Hawks.
Obviously lifting in confidence having denied the champions in the first 40 minutes, the hosts raced in tries to Jordan Baker and then Willie Heta, the captain-coach nailing both conversions and landing two penalties in the second stanza clinic.
It was as sublime a 40-minute period produced by a Hawks side since the two blues’ memorable 2013 grand final charge.
And while careful not to talk-up his side’s premiership dream, Heta believes Hawks will have plenty of sides looking over their shoulders during the minor premiership, at the very least.
“I suppose it brings a little bit of pressure, actually,” Heta grinned when asked what a win like this does for his side’s confidence.
“I can’t say a lot except, if we turn up like that every week we’re going to give the competition a run.”
To be fair to Mudgee, the Dragons were severely down on talent.
The premiers were without Corin Smith, Jack Afamasaga, Hamish Bryant, Nathan O’Brien and, for short stints due to discipline, Jared Robinson and Nathan Orr. Both spent time in the sin bin.
They fought hard. Hicks finished the game with a double, while Andrew Warwicker was strong and Ben Thompson scheming out of acting half.
But it was a battle for the Dragons – the loss ending Mudgee’s winning streak at nine.
“We got a football lesson today,” coach Peter Hickman said.
“When it was even at half-time, the team that came out and controlled possession and field position was going to win the game.
“We ball-watched the six in the second half, he played well in that last 40.
“Considering the conditions and the troops we had out, I wasn’t too unsatisfied.”
Either was Heta.
With new additions Sione Tongia and Ethan McKellar absolutely outstanding, the confidence of two blues juniors Jack Aumuller, Nathan Potts and Jedd Kennedy has risen.
The latter three were Hawks’ best in the statement victory built on defence.
“(Defence was) an area we needed to work on after Oberon, obviously a good attacking side and to hold them out, big ups to our defence.
“Ethan McKellar, Jedd, Pottsy, the guys that have come through the junior system have been great.”
The game did deteriorate at points.
One massive hit from Aumuller on Nathan Orr bringing the teams together before Orr and Hawks’ backrower Viane Faliniko came together late in the contest. Orr received 10 minutes in the sin bin as a result.
Hickman said it could be another month before off-season recruit Smith returns for the Dragons.
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