A LION-HEARTED defensive effort and some attacking spark from an unlikely source carried Orange Emus to Blowes Clothing Cup second grade glory on Saturday.
Playing in front of a parochial Endeavour Oval crowd, Emus defeated a valiant Bathurst Bulldogs outfit 21-16 to add the season’s major spoils to their minor premiership.
The catalysts for their win were the minutes either side of half-time they spent with only 13 men on the park, and a try-scoring double to Matt Findlay.
The front-rower’s first five-pointer came at the 10th minute, not long after Bulldogs halfback Kurt Weekes had opened the scoring with a penalty goal.
Damo Harton added the extras and Emus, having scored from their first venture into Bathurst’s territory, would have fancied their chances of extending the lead beyond 7-3 in the near future.
As it turned out, they wouldn’t score again in almost 50 minutes.
It would have crippled their chances were it not for the resolve of their defence. Emus tackled themselves to a standstill, no more so than in the latter stages of the first half when they lost both prop Al Hattersley and skipper Simon Thompson to yellow cards.
Those who remained on the field refused to buckle under a torrent of Bulldogs possession and position, and didn’t concede a point when they were either one or two men down.
Thompson said the importance of that scoreless stretch couldn’t be overestimated.
“That’s probably what’s won us the game,” he said.
“The boys that were left out there dug in deep and made sure that we were going to win that time.
“That proved to Bulldogs they weren’t going to roll over us and we were here to win.”
Bulldogs coach and fullback Justin Mobbs agreed his side’s inability to make their personnel advantage count had been telling.
“We just didn’t capitalise when they were two players down,” he said.
It wasn’t until the 50th minute that Emus’ line was finally breached, and that came via a 70-metre intercept to replacement Harry Peacock.
When coupled with a second penalty goal to Weekes, Bulldogs had suddenly hit the front to the tune of 11-7.
But Findlay’s second try and a further five-pointer to Jake Roberts – both converted by Harton – swung the momentum back to the green end.
A long-range try to Bulldogs winger Jack Gunther in the shadows of full-time ensured a few nervous minutes for the hosts, but they held their nerve to close out the five-point victory.
As many as half of the Bulldogs’ 14 penalties were awarded in kicking range, but in blustery conditions they understandably chose to keep the ball in hand.
When asked if, given a second chance, he would have ordered those shots be attempted, Mobbs responded, “probably, but at the end of the day the boys wanted to go for it and we have to back ourselves, so credit to Emus for holding on”.
“We definitely had our chances to win it and credit has to go to Emus: they did what it took to win.”
Thompson paid tribute to Bulldogs, admitting the closeness of the game was reflected in the scoreline.
“We had to fight to the end,” the victorious captain said.
“Pressure brings out mistakes and they put pressure on us. It was a tight game and it could have gone either way.”
ORANGE EMUS 21 (Matt Findlay 2, Jake Roberts tries; Damo Harton 3 convs) def BATHURST BULLDOGS 16 (Harry Peacock, Jack Gunther tries, Kurt Weekes 2 pen goals)