A STOIC defensive effort earned the Orange City Lions their fifth win from six Blowes Clothing Cup starts on Saturday, holding off a physical Narromine Gorillas unit 22-11.
Played in fast, dry conditions in front of a vocal Pride Park crowd, the Lions ran in three tries to one in a back-and-forth affair, in a performance skipper Josh Tremain labelled “less than polished”.
“It wasn’t [our best performance],” he said.
“We were expecting a physical game, and they provided. They were a bigger side, and we just kept going into their patterns.”
The Lions were ambushed by the Gorillas’ massive forward pack in the game’s opening exchanges, and the visitors quickly gained ascendency via brutality.
With his team back-pedalling, Lions’ fly-half Mesui Lemoto and fullback Sam Dwyer turned to their much-revered kicking games in an attempt to secure field position and force the Gorillas to play from their own half, and counter-attack with ball in hand.
The tactic proved fruitful as the pair kicked long, and often.
With the scores deadlocked at nil-all after 20 minutes, Lemoto opened the scoring with a 35 metre penalty goal after flanker Duncan Young forced a penalty for holding on.
Narromine hit back five minutes later, despite being a man down after lock Keith Maher was sent to the sin bin, with pivot Tom Harrison kicking a penalty of his own.
From the resulting kick-off, Orange City extended its lead to seven after Young latched onto Lemoto’s towering restart.
He sliced through the Gorillas’ line and found an unmarked Mitch Green, who gleefully accepted the easiest of tries. Lemoto converted, pushing the score to 10-3.
Harrison nailed his second penalty goal on the stroke of half-time, reducing the deficit to four at the break.
With Narromine camped in Lions’ territory for the opening 10 minutes of the second stanza, Lemoto again turned to his boot.
The classy pivot chip-and-chased from his own 22-metre line, and after Tatafu Na’aniumotu regathered, the ball went through three sets of Lions hands, before Jake Davis found space and dived over, finishing a breathtaking piece of play.
This time it was Narromine’s turn to score directly after points, and turn the game on its head.
The Lions spun it wide from the restart, and Gorillas skipper Luke Brown charged down Lemoto’s attempted clearance, and dived on the rebound to score between the sticks. Harrison added the extra points to reduce the Lions’ lead to four.
The scores remained the same until the 80th minute when, on full-time, a slick Narromine back-line move had them set to secure a miracle win.
However, the final pass went to ground and Lions winger Tom Fisher scooped up the loose ball and touched down, securing the four competition points.
“To defend a team like that, we’re very happy,” Tremain explained.
“[We were] rushing plays. Instead of just trying to set up our phase play and build pressure we were...having to force passes. But the talk was really good, as was our depth and defence out wide.”
Brown lamented what could have been, but said his team’s performance bodes well heading in to the middle third of the season.
“If that [final] ball had gone to hand it could’ve been a different story,” he said.
“Coming here is always a tough gig, we knew we were up against it. It was pleasing to make them work for it, and it was just a bit of polish on the end of moves. They’re always a good measure to see where you’re at.
“Hopefully we can build on that coming into the back end of the season.”
ORANGE CITY LIONS 22 (Mitch Green, Jake Davis, Tom Fisher tries; Mesui Lemoto 2 conv, pen goal) def NARROMINE GORILLAS 11 (Luke Brown try; Tom Harrison 2 pen goals).