CONTINUING to punch above their weight, a pint-sized Orange Hawks have pulled off a miracle comeback to knock off Group 10 heavyweights Bathurst St Pat’s 22-20 at Wade Park on Sunday.
Down 20-0 at half-time, a spirited two blues out enthused their highly fancied opponents and were rewarded with tries to Western Division winger Alofi Mataele, Kyle Byrnes and a brace to captain-coach Tim Mortimer.
Showing all the gall of a veteran pivot, three successful conversions from young halfback Keegan Harding put the two blues in front by two with six minutes to go.
Then, in a drama charged final two minutes that included a charge down and a missed Hawks penalty conversion that gifted St Pat’s one final roll of the dice, it was Mortimer’s men who prevailed after Saints winger John Hanscombe’s infield kick was dived on by Hawk’s Justin Howarth in the dying stages.
“I knew everyone was keen to get the win after the hard slog,” Mortimer said, praising his side’s intensity in defence throughout the second half.
“I wasn’t too worried (at the end), even though they got around us. I knew we had cover and they made the wrong decision and kicked it straight away, lucky us in that case.”
It’s hard to tell what was more remarkable in that second period - Hawks’ stark improvement or St Pat’s rapid decline.
The latter is of grave concern to St Pat’s coach Kurt Hancock.
“That’s probably been the story of our week,” Hancock said.
“I’ve given the boys a bit of a spray at the end there because we’re only trying to get it right on Saturday, when really you’ve got to be good from Monday to Friday before you try and get it right on the weekend. Unfortunately that showed in our second half.
“Bitterly disappointed, I had an old boy come up and say it was one of the worst losses they’ve seen for quite some time so we’ll work hard the next couple of weeks.”
The signs were ominous for Hawks early, with burly St Pat’s centre Sep Ale waltzing through wafer thin two blues defence to score the game’s first try after seven minutes.
The rot continued shortly after when Brent Dennis scooped up a loose ball to score his side’s second, with Garry Reilly nailing the conversion to take the visitors out to a 10-0 lead after 10 minutes.
Errors continued to plague Hawks, and when Chris Broadman and Dave Howard both crossed for St Pat’s, the latter a 35-metre solo effort out of dummy half, St Pat’s boasted a 20-0 lead heading into the sheds at half-time.
But that St Pat’s side never returned.
The hosts hit back just after oranges through Mortimer, then again through Byrnes to reduce the margin to eight points after Harding potted both conversion attempts.
Mataele then crossed for his first and after just 13 minutes of the second half Hawks were back in the contest at 20-16.
St Pat’s looked gone, and when the grind began that’s when Hawks rose to the fore.
The two blues defence was bruising, with Mortimer and lock Travis Bubb leading from the front.
With six minutes to go Mortimer bagged his double, Harding cooly slotting the extras to give the two blues the lead for the first time, an advantage they never let slip in a character building victory for the under-gunned Hawks.
“Our first half was woeful, and we all played terribly,” Mortimer admitted.
“The sheds were quite at half-time and everyone knew what we had to do, we’ve been to that place before. There was only one thing we needed to do and that was toughen up and go really hard.
“Everyone stepped up. I’m very proud of everyone.”
ORANGE HAWKS 22 (Tim Mortimer 2, Alofi Mataele, Kyle Byrnes tries; Keegan Harding 3 goals) def BATHURST ST PAT’S 20 (Brent Dennis, Sep Ale, Chris Boardman, Dave Howarth tries; Garry Reilly 2 goals)