If you thought Orange Hawks’ 2018 Group 10 campaign was in tatters, you might want to think again.
The two blues produced an emphatic 46-16 win over the Mudgee Dragons at Glen Willow Oval on Saturday, despite losing influential prop Ethan McKellar after just 25 minutes with a leg injury.
Although initial signs were ominous, Hawks’ staff were optimistic post-game, suggesting it wasn’t as serious as first suspected.
“I should have touched base with him at half-time but I don’t know what’s going on with him right now,” Hawks’ captain-coach Willie Heta after the game.
“It’s a big loss if he’s out. He’s led us from the front for the majority of the season and he’s still got some rep footy to play after the year.”
McKellar’s exit saw Saul Houma injected into the action as the barnstorming Kiwi returned to the paddock after missing multiple matches with family commitments.
The man mountain’s impact was instant as his ability to create second-phase football helped Hawks stretch an early 12-6 lead out to a 22-6 advantage before the half-time break.
“Saul’s had commitments back home in New Zealand and we knew he was going to be away but you couldn’t miss his big frame out there today,” Heta said.
It’s definitely a confidence booster going into the finals.Willie Heta
“Second-phase football overworks the defence so it’s great having his value out there.”
Jackson Coote’s try at the 35-minute mark capped off a run of 22 unanswered from the away side as Mudgee opened the scoring on the back of a 70-metre Corin Smith run that put Lachie Hill in under the sticks.
Hawks, though, didn’t seem fazed by the early deficit, something Heta is pleased with leading into the semi-finals. It’s resilience Hawks has lacked over the last two weeks, but will desperately need in the post season.
“We knew it was going to be tough coming up here being their last game of the season” he said.
“I came up here last year so I know what to expect. It’s definitely a confidence booster going into the finals.”
After failing to surpass 20 points in their last two outings, Heta was pleased with his side’s diversity with the ball in-hand.
“We offered a bit more in attack today and tightened up our defence. It was good to get the result.”
- ORANGE HAWKS 46 (Jake Blimka 2, Kyle Robinson, Willie Heta, Eman Rodregueze, Jackson Coote, Cory Brown, Raku Tuheko tries; Willie Heta 7 goals) def MUDGEE DRAGONS 16 (Lachie Hill, Chanse Burgess, Corin Smith tries; Tom Lawson 2 goals).