FOR the second week in a row Orange Hawks have blown a half-time lead, this time in their round six Group 10 premier league clash with Mudgee Dragons, at Wade Park on Sunday.
Hawks controlled the first half of the game, thanks largely to improved ball-handling and a dismal Dragons completion rate, and entered the break four points in front of the competition leaders at 10-6.
With their first win of the season just 40 minutes away, errors crept into Hawks’ game, as the Dragons ran in 22 unanswered second-half points, extending the two blues’ winless streak to five games.
“We’re not where we need to be at the moment,” Hawks captain-coach Tim Mortimer said.
“We controlled the first half, but Mudgee controlled the second half.”
Hawks started the game in the worst possible fashion, knocking on in the second tackle of the game.
The two blues’ defence held strong for three repeat Dragons’ sets however, but were left to work from their own half repeatedly.
When Hawks finally got a chance to attack inside Mudgee’s half, thanks to a spilled ball on their own 20-metre line, the two blues showed glimpses of last year’s minor premiership form, forcing three consecutive repeat sets.
In the third, halfback Sandon Gibbs-O’Neill turned Jared Brodrick inside, and the bustling centre carried two Dragons over the line to open the scoring.
Fullback Joe Lasagavibau duly converted, extending Hawks’ lead to six.
Hawks continued playing inside Mudgee’s half, but for one half-chance the Dragons squandered.
Seemingly inevitably, Hawks’ Alofi Mataele found space before linking with Lasagavibau who scored Hawks’ second, but missed the conversion.
Late in the half Mudgee began to regain control, with halfback Tim Condon continually sending his giant props at Hawks’ edges.
With just four minutes until the break Condon dummied, took on the line and crossed for Mudgee’s only four-pointer of the first period. Centre Tom Lewsley converted, reducing the deficit to four leading into the break.
Mudgee tightened up after the break, with second-rower Demetrius Ainuu scoring in the left corner after latching on to a Nathan Orr flick pass.
Lewsley’s conversion attempt missed, leaving the score at 12-10.
In a huge blow to Hawks’ cause, Gibbs-O’Neill left the field with a suspected dislocated shoulder and from there the two blues began to unravel.
Hawks’ completion rate diminished and ball-handling errors became frequent, allowing Mudgee try-scoring sensation Corin Smith to cross twice, just three minutes apart.
Dragons skipper Jack Afamasaga then barged his way over in the shadow of full-time to seal Hawks’ fate.
“It’s a good result, it was tough in the first-half but the boys really knuckled down,” the Dragons’ mentor said.
“In the second half we gelled, knew what we were going to do and it just came together.”
Mortimer said his team’s improvement from last week’s clash with Blayney was visible and vast.
“If you saw our game against Blayney last week, we were just all over the shop,” Mortimer said
“Today we were a lot more controlled in our sets and we got to a lot more of our kicks, which was one of our goals.
“We fell away a bit in the second half, but I think that just came with fatigue. Missing our two front-rowers our lack of size got to us. We do take some positives out of [the loss].
MUDGEE DRAGONS 28 (Corin Smith 2, Demetrius Ainuu, Tim Condon, Jack Afamasaga tries; Tom Lewsley 4 goal) def ORANGE HAWKS 10 (Jared Brodrick, Joe Lasagavibau tries; Joe Lasagavibau goal).